Johnson desk
Johnson sitting behind the desk on the phone while Lady Bird Johnson stands to the side dressed in pink.
Lady Bird Johnson listening to President Lyndon B. Johnson, at the desk, on the phone upon Robert Kennedy's death.
DesignerThomas D. Wadelton
Made inChicago, Illinois
MaterialsMahogany, leather
Height30.25 in (76.8 cm)
Width75.5 in (192 cm)
Depth42.5 in (108 cm)
CollectionUnited States Senate

The Johnson desk is a mahogany partners desk that was used by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Oval Office as his Oval Office desk. One of only six desks used by a president in the Oval Office, it was designed by Thomas D. Wadelton and built in 1909 by S. Karpen and Bros. in Chicago. The desk was built as part of 125 seven-piece office sets for senators' offices in the Russell Senate Office Building, and was used by Johnson during his terms as U.S. Senator, Vice President, and President. It is currently located at Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum as part of a replica Oval Office.

Design and markings

Green top added to desk
LBJ meeting with two others around the desk. The top is wooden.
Meeting with Diosdado Macapagal on November 26, 1963
LBJ meeting with three others around the desk. The top is green.
Meeting with representatives of Cambodia on November 27, 1963

The Johnson Desk is a mahogany partners desk. Built in 1909, the designs of the front and the back of the desk are mirrors of each other. Each face of the two pedestal desk has three drawers on one pedestal and a hinged-door cabinet on the other. The desk has four writing slides, two on each side, and each pedestal sits on four bun feet. Mahogany veneer covers the desk's top and sides as well as the drawer and cabinet fronts. A central foot stretcher was originally upholstered with leather. Each of the four corners of the desk is built with a rectangular, outset, console bracket with a stylized flower blossom carved into each side. The desk is 30.25 in (76.8 cm) tall with a work surface measuring 75.5 in (192 cm) wide and 42.5 in (108 cm) deep.[1] There is a manufacturer's tag on the interior of both top-right drawers which reads "GEO. W. COBB JR. / COMMERCIAL FURNITURE / NEW YORK, N.Y."[1]

The desk was designed as part of a seven-piece office furniture set for rooms in the Russell Senate Office Building. Thomas Hastings, one of the architects of the building, said the furniture pieces were designed to be "very American" in style, and inspiration for the design was drawn from "old books of the furniture of our forefathers".[2] After inspecting models of the furniture designs, Hastings said, "So far as I am capable of judging, I think it is going to be the swellest set of furniture of the time that I have ever seen. It is the real thing, and has all the character and dignity which it seems to me furniture for the United States senators should have".[2] He also commented on the "rich brown color" achieved on the furniture pieces as well as the "effects obtained by matching the veneers".[2]

Blocks were added under the feet of the desk to accommodate Johnson's legs.[3]

When in the Oval Office, Lyndon B. Johnson used a modified green vinyl helicopter seat, complete with built-in ashtray, as the chair at this desk.[4] A day after moving into the office, a matching green top was added to the desk, replacing a standard desk blotter.[5][6]


Senate years

The Johnson desk was one of 125 identical desks designed by Thomas D. Wadelton, a New York cabinetmaker, and built by S. Karpen and Bros. in Chicago under contract with George W. Cobb, Jr., for the Russell Senate Office Building.[1] Opened on March 5, 1909, the Russell Building was designed by Carrère & Hastings and was created to alleviate overcrowding in the Capitol building. The new structure provided 98 new suites, 10 individual rooms, and 8 committee rooms for Senate offices.[1][2]

Each desk cost $80.00 (equivalent to $2,606 in 2022) and was part of a set of standard furniture for each Senator's office.[1] According to the Senate, besides the desk this set included "a swivel desk chair, a round arm chair, a square arm chair, a small side chair, an easy chair, and a davenport".[1] Ninety-two sets of furniture were created for the opening of the Russell Building, one set for each of the Senators from the then 46 states, with additional sets ordered after the building opened.[2] The building was expanded in 1933 and six additional desks were manufactured for the new rooms.[1] The furniture for the Russell Building was the largest single furniture contract issued by the Senate. Many of the pieces continue to be used in Senate offices to this day.[2]

In 1948, Lyndon B. Johnson was narrowly elected to the Senate and quickly moved up the ranks becoming Democratic whip in 1951, Democratic leader in 1953, and Senate majority leader in 1955.[7] Over this quick succession of positions, Johnson continually worked out of Room 231 in the Russell Senate Office Building, then simply known as the Senate Office Building.[8][9][10][11]

After becoming majority leader, Johnson appropriated a room on the third floor of the Capitol Building as the majority leader's working office. This space, being one floor above the Senate Chamber, turned out to be inconvenient for Johnson. In 1958, a new office building was built to house Senate committees, freeing up highly sought-after space in the Capitol building.[12] In 1959, Johnson moved his majority leader's office to Rooms S-211 and S-212, which were originally designed for the Senate Library but used for the Senate District of Columbia Committee instead.[12][13] Johnson was particularly fond of Room S-211 where he placed his desk, and which was later renamed "The Lyndon Baines Johnson Room".[13] Johnson had the room refurbished in vibrant colors and it picked up the nickname "Taj Mahal".[12] Johnson continued to use these rooms even after becoming Vice President in 1961, forcing the then majority leader, Mike Mansfield, to open a new office across the hall.[12] Johnson stopped using these rooms only once he ascended to the office of President.[13]

Oval Office

After President John F. Kennedy's assassination, Johnson did not move into the Oval Office for several days, possibly at the request of Robert Kennedy.[14] He finally did begin using the room on November 26, 1963.[15] When he entered the Oval Office, a series of changes were made to the room that were planned by Jacqueline Kennedy, but not completed until that point due to updates to an air-conditioning system, including a new red rug and white drapes. Johnson had the Resolute desk, the desk Kennedy used in the office, removed and replaced with the desk that he had used throughout his time in the Senate and as Vice President.[15][16] The Resolute desk went on tour around the country at this time to help raise funds for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and was subsequently put on view at the Smithsonian Institution.[17]

Juanita Roberts, chief personal secretary to President Johnson,[18] spoke about the transition of objects into and out of the Oval Office when Johnson assumed the presidency in a 1969 oral history interview.[19] Roberts said:

We worked on Sunday. That was the day, I believe, yes, that President Kennedy's casket was moved to the Rotunda of the Capitol for him to lie in state there. On that afternoon, Sunday afternoon, I did make a trip up to our office in the Capitol, and marked items for packing to come down to the White House. I marked a couch and the desk and the personal items, and things that I knew would make him feel more comfortable the sooner we could get them. That was a difficult trip to make; the crowds were so great and trying to get into the Capitol Building was a difficult thing.[19]

External videos
video icon "LBJ desk cleaned, moved out; Roosevelt desk brought back into White House Oval Office" clip from the White House Naval Photographic Unit January 1969 reel. From the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum moving picture collection.

Roberts continued on to describe that Johnson was to begin using the office for the first time the day after Kennedy's funeral. Much of Kennedy's belongings had already been cleared out due to the carpet and curtain installation leaving just a few paintings, books on shelves, two couches, a coffee table, two lamp tables, and the Resolute desk remaining. Johnson's desk was put on a truck and was standing by as new books from the White House library were added to the shelves in the room. That first day much of the furnishings remained the same, with Roberts pointing out that she did not have time to switch out paintings but did make sure the White House florist brought in flowers and a seamstress got new "glass cover" curtains created and installed in the windows.[19]

During Johnson's presidency he was known for having extramarital affairs, with what Robert Dallek in his book Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times called a harem of women.[20] Ronald Kessler in his book Inside the Whitehouse describes multiple sexual encounters between Johnson and his secretaries in the Oval Office including one where his wife, Ladybird Johnson, walked in on Johnson and a secretary in the midst of having sex, leading to the installation of a buzzer system to warn him if Ladybird was on her way.[21] Dallek describes an encounter Johnson had with an unnamed White House secretary where they "had casual sex on an office desk."[20] Wesley O. Hagood notes in his book Presidential Sex that while it has been documented Johnson had sex with at least one secretary on a desk in the White House it was never specified if that desk was the Johnson desk in the Oval Office or not.[22] John M. Berecz disagrees in his book All the Presidents' Women: An Examination of Sexual Styles of Presidents Truman through Clinton, stating "One White House secretary is reported to have had sex with him on the desk in the Oval Office."[23]

In January 1969 the desk was cleared off and removed from the White House. It was replaced by the Wilson desk, the desk chosen by Richard Nixon for his tenure in the Oval Office.[24]


the desk viewed from slightly above showing the green top and the rest of the oval office behind it.
The Johnson desk in the replica Oval Office at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum

Johnson called Gordon Bunshaft, the architect for the forthcoming Johnson Library and Museum, on October 10, 1968, to discuss the presidential library he was designing and his desire to have the Johnson desk moved to it. He stated, "I hate to build me a little one out there at the side and say, this is the way the President's office looked. And here's his desk and here's his chair. Here's his FDR picture... maybe we don't have to have the same height ceiling... and maybe we can't have the same oval room... But it seems to me that if we could, we ought to take this rug out of here and this—just as the Kennedys are doing and have done, just as the Trumans did—and ought to take the desk and ought to take the chairs..."[25]

The Johnson desk was moved to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas, and sits in the 78-scale replica Oval Office there. Johnson was known to sit at the desk on occasion to surprise visitors.[26][16]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Desk, Flat-Top Partner". United States Senate. Archived from the original on November 27, 2020. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Russell Senate Office Building: furniture. U.S. Senate Commission on Art by the Office of Senate Curator. Senate Publication 110–26. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
  3. ^ "The Oval Office Permanent Exhibitions". Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Retrieved 2023-01-07.
  4. ^ Saffo, Paul (June 11, 2008). "Obama's 'Cybergenic' Edge" (opinion). ABC News. Archived from the original on November 6, 2018. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  5. ^ Enlargement, Nov. 26, 1963, 1963-11-26-CA10-1. Archived May 16, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. White House Photo Office. Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  6. ^ Enlargement, Nov. 27, 1963, 1963-11-27-CA18-1. Archived April 2, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. White House Photo Office. Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
  7. ^ "Lyndon B. Johnson: A Featured Biography". United States Senate. Archived from the original on November 26, 2020. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  8. ^ Official congressional directory. 81st congress 1st session 1949. United States Government printing Office. 1949. p. 299. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  9. ^ Official Congressional Directory. United States Congress. 1951. p. 325. retrieved December 1, 2020.
  10. ^ Official Congressional Directory. United States Congress.1953. p. 340. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  11. ^ Official congressional directory. 84th congress lst session. United States Government printing Office. 1955. p. 344. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d "The Senate's Taj Mahal". United States Senate. Archived from the original on October 10, 2020. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  13. ^ a b c The Lyndon Baines Johnson Room. Office of Senate Curator. Senate Publication 105–60. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  14. ^ Ball, Moya Ann (Winter 1994). "The Phantom of the Oval Office: The John F. Kennedy Assassination's Symbolic Impact on Lyndon B. Johnson, His Key Advisers, and the Vietnam Decision-Making Process". Presidential Studies Quarterly. 24 (1): 105–119. JSTOR 27551197.
  15. ^ a b "Johnson Moves Into White House's Oval Office; Also Installs Own Rocker, Pictures and Desk as Red Carpet Is Rolled Out". The New York Times. November 27, 1963. p. 16. Retrieved December 12, 2020. ProQuest URL
  16. ^ a b Artifacts in the Oval Office. Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  17. ^ Historic Desk Loaned to President Carter. Smithsonian Institution. 1977. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  18. ^ "Roberts, Juanita, 1913-1983". Biographical info page, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Retrieved 2023-03-14.
  19. ^ a b c "Oral history transcript, Juanita Roberts, interview 3 (III), 10/17/1969, by Joe B. Frantz". LBJ Library Oral Histories, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. 1969-10-17. Retrieved 2023-03-14.
  20. ^ a b Dallek, Robert. lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and his times. Oxford University Press. 1991. p. 189. Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  21. ^ Kessler, Ronald. Inside the Whitehouse. Pocket Books. 1995. pp 1, 37. Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  22. ^ Hagood, Wesley O. Presidential SexCarol Pub. 1998. p.181. Retrieved Januar 12, 2022.
  23. ^ Berecz, John M. All the Presidents' Women: An Examination of Sexual Styles of Presidents Truman through Clinton. Green Dragon Publishing Group. April 1999. Retrieved January 12, 2022/
  24. ^ The President: January 1969. MP904 (Video). TheLBJLibrary. 2013-01-14 [December 1969]. Retrieved 2023-06-19.
  25. ^ A Conversation between LBJ and Gordon Bunshaft. Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. November 10, 1968 8:57 p.m. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
  26. ^ Hess, Stephen (January 8, 2009). "What Now? The Oval Office". Brookings Institution. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020. Retrieved November 30, 2020.