Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Lucas. Lucas Wonders, “Why is there a White House?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Lucas!
Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be President of the United States? What would be the coolest thing about being what many people believe is the most powerful person in the world?
There are many pressures and responsibilities that come along with being President of the United States. The job isn't without its benefits, though. For one, you would get to live in the White House and work out of the Oval Office.
Speaking of the Oval Office, why does the President of the United States work out of a room shaped like an egg? Are there any oval rooms in your house? We're going to take a guess that all the rooms in your house are probably rectangles of different sizes.
The Oval Office has an interesting history, and there was a specific inspiration behind its unique shape. To understand how the Oval Office came to be, we have to go back to Philadelphia in 1791.
Before the White House was built, George Washington used a house in Philadelphia as his Executive Mansion. Before moving in, he ordered that the straight rear walls of the house's two main rooms be rebuilt into a bowed or semi-circular shape.
Doing so created an oval-shaped room that Washington intended to use as a space for a formal reception known as a "levee." The levee was an old tradition borrowed from the English court.
The levee involved a formal, somewhat-elaborate ritual intended to allow prominent members of society to meet the president. The rigid ceremony involved guests assembling in a circle after greeting the president. Washington believed the levee was a symbolic way to elevate and dramatize the newly-created office of the Presidency.
When he took office, Thomas Jefferson did away with the formal ritual of the levee, replacing it with a simple handshake. The legacy of the levee lived on, however, when it inspired the oval shape of the Blue Room in the newly-constructed White House.
The modern Oval Office dates back to 1909, when the West Wing of the White House was expanded under President Taft. A temporary executive office had been built in the West Wing during Theodore Roosevelt's first term.
Taft ordered an expansion of the structure and held a competition to choose an architect for the job. Nathan C. Wyeth, an architect from Washington, D.C., won the contest and designed the new West Wing expansion, which would include a new office for the president.
Wyeth based the design of the new office for the president on the oval-shaped Blue Room. Eventually it became known as the Oval Office. Today, it remains a powerful symbol of the American Presidency, since it's often used for meetings with world leaders and televised addresses to the American public.