the Oval Office
On an early October morning in 1909, President William Howard Taft became the first President
to walk into the Oval Office. Greeting the 27th President of the United States were silk
velvet curtains and a checkerboard floor made of mahajua wood from the Philippines. Caribou
hide tacked with brass studs covered the chairs in the room. President Taft
chose the olive green color scheme.
The Oval Office was different from the office of President Theodore Roosevelt, who built the West Wing in
1902. Roosevelt's office was rectangular. Taft relocated the office
and changed its shape to oval, like the Blue Room in the White House.
Preferences for oval rooms date to the time of George Washington.
At the president's
home in Philadelphia, Washington had two rooms modified with a bowed-end in each
that were used for hosting formal receptions called levees. As his guests formed a circle around him,
Washington would stand in the center to greet them. With no one standing at the head or
foot of the room, everyone was an equal distance from the president. The circle became a
symbol of democracy, and Washington likely envisioned the oval Blue Room as the ideal place
to host a levee.
For President Taft, the Oval Office may have symbolized his view of the
Taft intended to be the center of his administration, and by creating the Oval Office in the
center of the West Wing, he was more involved with the day-to-day
operation of his presidency
than were his recent predecessors.
What President Taft could not imagine in 1909 when he built the Oval Office was that the office
itself would become a symbol of the Presidency. Over the years Americans developed a sentimental
attachment to the Oval Office through memorable images, such as John Kennedy, Jr. peering
through the front panel of his father's desk or President Nixon talking on the
astronauts after a successful voyage. Television broadcasts, such as President Reagan's speech following the Challenger
explosion, would leave lasting impressions in the minds of Americans
of both the office
and its occupant.
The Oval Office became a symbol of strength and reassurance the evening of September 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush delivered comforting words through a televised address from the Oval Office. Less than six months later, President George W. Bush welcomed Afghan Interim Authority Hamid Karzai to the Oval Office. The meeting was a sign of significant progress in the war on terrorism.
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