William Evenden, ‘Resolute Desk’, 1880, White House Historical Association

The Resolute Desk, made by William Evenden, Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham, England, was constructed from white oak and mahogany timbers taken from the HMS Resolute and was presented to President Rutherford Hayes by Queen Victoria in 1880. In 1852, the Resolute was part of a British arctic expedition to search for Sir John Franklin, who disappeared while trying to discover the Northwest Passage. The Resolute had been abandoned after being trapped in ice. The American whaler George Henry recovered the ship in 1855 and Congress appropriated the funds to refit it and send it to England as a gift in friendship to Queen Victoria. The Queen reaffirmed that friendship with the construction of this desk after the Resolute was decommissioned. Original designs for the desk featured portraits of Victoria and Hayes along with side panels featuring arctic scenes and British and American flags. The center panel with Presidential Seal was added for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. Although similar to the Great Seal of the United States, the Presidential Seal has slight differences in design. This version of the Presidential Seal depicts the eagle facing to the left and the talon holding the arrows. President Harry Truman would change the seal slightly by having the eagle face to the right and the talon holding the olive branch.

Image rights: White House Historical Association

Gift of Queen Victoria of Great Britain to President Rutherford B. Hayes