The Arctic Council & The Resolute Desk

On April 24-25, 2015, Canada will host the 2015 Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Iqaluit, Nunavut, a small town that has less than 7,000 inhabitants and is an administrative and logistical center for much of the eastern Arctic.

The exciting part for us is that Canada will be handing over the baton as the United States becomes the next Chair of the Arctic Council, and it will remains so for the next two years. In honor of this event, we wanted to share a fun Arctic-related fact about a piece of furniture in the White House…the Resolute Desk where the president sits in the Oval Office.

According to the White House Museum site, “Many presidents have used the Resolute desk in the Oval Office or in their study in the Residence. It was made from the timbers of HMS Resolute.”

The Resolute was a 19th century sailing ship outfitted specifically for exploring the Arctic. During an expedition in 1854 it became locked in the ice and had to be abandoned. In September 1855, the ship was still intact and had been moving with the ice for over a year. It managed to travel 1,200 miles to Baffin Island where it was found by an American whaler named George Henry.

The ship was returned to Queen Victoria as a token of friendship and goodwill and then served in the Royal Navy from 1856 until she was retired and broken up in 1879. Queen Victoria then commissioned the desk from William Evenden at the Royal Naval Dockyard and presented it to President Rutherford Hayes in 1880.

“The desk has twice been modified. Franklin Roosevelt requested that the kneehole be fitted with a modesty panel carved with the presidential seal (he preferred people not see his leg braces and often placed a waste basket in front of his desks), but he did not live to see it installed. However, President Truman liked the eagle motif and had it installed when he came into office in 1945. Since this was prior to Truman’s decision to turn the head of the eagle in the presidential seal to face the olive branch of peace, the eagle in the Resolute’s modesty panel faces the arrows of war.

“Every president since Hayes—except Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford—has used the Resolute desk, although some chose to use it in their private study in the Residence. The desk was made famous in part by a photograph of John Kennedy at work while his son, John Jr., peeked out the front through the kneehole panel.”

Find out more about the desk and the Arctic Council at their respective websites.