The world’s most famous office

President Obama reads briefing material in the Oval Office at the White House.
President Obama reads briefing material in the Oval Office at the White House. (Pete Souza)

Named for its distinctive shape, the Oval Office is the U.S. president’s formal work space. It is part of the complex of offices that make up the West Wing of the White House.

The Oval Office is often the site of meetings between the president and foreign heads of state. Radio and television broadcasts from the Oval Office, such as John F. Kennedy’s address to the American people on the Soviet arms buildup in Cuba and Ronald Reagan’s speech after the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, contribute to its fame. For many people, the Oval Office is a symbol of the power and prestige of the American presidency.

Did you know that presidents redecorate the Oval Office to suit their personal tastes? They choose new furniture and drapery and even design their own oval-shaped carpet that is featured prominently in the center of the room. They can also select new paintings from the White House collection or borrow from museums for their terms in office. The Oval Office truly reflects the personality and governing style of each incumbent president.

President Obama’s oval rug is inscribed with inspiring quotes from presidents before him and from Martin Luther King Jr.:

  • “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • “Government of the people, by the people, for the people,” President Abraham Lincoln
  • “No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings,” President John F. Kennedy
  • “The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us,” President Theodore Roosevelt

Learn more about the history and design of the Oval Office.