Virtual Tour: The Oval Office

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Click and drag your cursor for a virtual tour of the Oval Office, what may be the most famous room in the world. (From the Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum and Library.)

In 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt, as part of a larger White House restoration, added a West, or office wing. TR's successor, William Howard Taft, expanded the West Wing, including in the process an Oval Office for the chief executive. Yet another reconstruction was undertaken by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934; the room you see here, although redecorated several times since, is FDR's legacy.

For Ronald Reagan as for every president the Oval Office served many functions. Here he began his workday with briefings by foreign policy advisors. Here he convened frequent meetings with members of his staff and met a diverse sampling of the American public-beauty queens and hometown heroes, poster children and astronauts. On days when he was to broadcast to the nation the Oval Office was converted into a television studio, with virtually all its furnishings removed, leaving only the "Resolute" desk--a gift to the American people from Queen Victoria.

Here also President Reagan conducted American diplomacy, sometimes resorting to unorthodox methods. For example, on February 15, 1983 the President met with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin in hopes of opening a dialogue between the super powers. That day the President spoke of human rights in the Soviet Union. In return for the release of a group of Pentecostals who had taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, he promised Dobrynin that he would avoid undue publicity or claims of credit. President Reagan's quiet brand of diplomacy paid off. The Pentecostals were allowed to emigrate.

For all the history made in this office, its ultimate character comes from the countless small, seemingly insignificant gestures that reflect the personality of each occupant. On January 20, 1989, having learned that the daughter of his old friend Lyn Nofziger had entered Georgetown University Hospital for treatment of lymph cancer, President Reagan telephoned Susan Nofziger to convey his concern. It was his last call from the Oval Office. The President also left a note of encouragement for his successor, George Bush, handwritten on a pad headlined, "Don't let the turkeys get you down."

Among the original pieces on display here are President Reagan's desk chair-- which he first used as Governor of California--along with the flags, pillows and artworks such as the bronze saddles presented by Ambassador Walter Anneberg. The items on the President's desk are also original. Perhaps most poignant is a paperweight inscribed with the following sentiment from Nellie Reagan's Bible: "You can be too big for God to use but you can never be too small."

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