You are standing inside the doorway of a full-scale replica of Jimmy Carter’s White House Oval Office, furnished exactly as it was during his administration. As you look around the office, you can imagine the work that goes on during a President’s term of office. Because the White House Oval Office is a working office, public visitors to the White House cannot view it on any tour.
The Oval Office is the symbol of the U.S. Presidency. It is located in the West Wing of the White House and is the center of presidential activity. In the Oval Office, the President hosts world leaders, diplomats, senior staff, and dignitaries as well as often addressing the American public.
President Theodore Roosevelt moved the President’s Office into a new West Wing in 1902. Before that, his office was in the main residence. In 1909, President Taft created an oval office when the West Wing was expanded. By placing the Oval Office in the center of the West Wing, he signaled a more hands-on approach to the presidency. President Franklin Roosevelt moved the Oval Office in 1934 to its current location overlooking the Rose Garden.
Each president decorates the Oval Office to his individual taste selecting furniture, paintings, and decorative objects from White House holdings. Among the features that remain constant are the Presidential Seal in plaster relief on the ceiling, the white marble mantel from the original 1909 Oval Office, and the two flags behind the president’s desk – the U.S. flag and the President’s flag.
The room was painted off-white in December 1974 at which time the salmon, gold, and green upholstery and drapery colors were selected. The oval rug, designed especially for the Oval Office during the Ford administration, was installed in December, 1976. (The rug on display in the museum is slightly smaller than the original so visitors can walk through part of the office.)
A highlight of the museum’s Oval Office is a reproduction of the Resolute Desk, named after the HMS Resolute. Because President Carter had served in the U.S. Navy, he selected this desk, which was made from the timbers of HMS Resolute, an abandoned British ship discovered by an American vessel and returned to the Queen of England as a token of friendship and goodwill. When the ship was retired, Queen Victoria commissioned the desk and presented it to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880.
Every President since Hayes, except Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, has used the Resolute desk. The desk was made famous by a photograph of President John F. Kennedy at work while his son, John Jr., peeked out from behind the kneehole panel.
On the desk are some of President Carter’s personal items:
the glass donkey made by Hans Godo Fräbel was given to President Carter by the Georgia Democratic Party;
a plaque with the sailor’s prayer “O God Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small” was given to President Carter by his mentor in the Navy, Admiral Hyman Rickover;
the Bible was used by President Carter in the Oval Office.
Behind the desk is an original model of the Rattlesnake, a colonial-era privateer from Massachusetts. Because the American colonies did not have a navy, the Continental Congress commissioned private shipping vessels to attack and capture British ships. The Rattlesnake was very successful and aided in the defeat of the British navy. This model is on loan from the U.S. Department of the Navy.
President Carter’s favorite president is Harry Truman. On the desk is a sign that reads “The Buck Stops Here” on one side and “I’m from Missouri” on the reverse. A similar sign sat on President Truman’s desk, symbolizing his take-charge attitude to the presidency and his belief that final responsibility for national decisions was his. As President Truman said, “The President – whoever he is – has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.”
An example of President Carter’s admiration of Harry Truman is this reproduction of a bronze bust of Harry Truman by Charles Keck. President Truman posed for Keck in the Oval Office, and the bust was cast at the Roman Bronze Works in 1947. The bust was presented to President Truman by the American Legion in a 1947 Oval Office ceremony. Local sculptor Donald Haugen made the Carter Library and Museum reproduction.
The Carter Library and Museum’s bronze bust of Benjamin Franklin is a reproduction of an original by famous French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828). The White House bust is considered one of the most important art objects in its collection and was made between 1778- and 1828. Houdon modeled the bust while Franklin lived in Paris as the Continental Congress ambassador to France. A French observer of the day noted that all of Paris was flocking to Houdon’s studio to view his rendering of America’s charming ambassador.
The portrait above the mantelpiece is a reproduction of the majestic 1776 Portrait of George Washington by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Peale is believed to have painted this portrait in May of 1776 before many of Washington’s Revolutionary War victories. Washington is portrayed with the light blue sash of Commander in Chief standing with Boston harbor in the background, where Washington had won his first major campaign against the British.
Frederic Remington’s bronze sculpture, The Bronco Buster, took nearly a year to complete. Upon completion in 1895, the work became one of the most popular small American bronze sculptures of the 1800s. Three hundred casts of The Bronco Buster exist, all with varying details. The White House casting is number 23 made by the Roman Bronze Works around 1903, (one of 93 lost-wax casts made by Roman Bronze Works of this piece). The Carter Library and Museum displays a reproduction.
This view of the White House is a reproduction of the painting The President’s House by an unknown artist. Based on an 1836-7 engraving by English artist William Bartlett (1809-1854), the painting is a romanticized view of the White House during Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Because this painting was a favorite of President Carter, he displayed it in the Oval Office, and the Carters used the image for their 1980 Christmas card.