October 25, 2023

Gen. George Marshall’s Pentagon Desk

Is it, or isn't it?

For many years, Gen. George Marshall’s Pentagon desk was on display in the Foundation Museum. Or so we thought.

The desk in question at the George C. Marshall Foundation.


The desk closely resembles the map table in the library, which was purchased by Gen. Phil Sheridan when the War Department built a new building in the late 1870s.

The table used by Gen. Phil Sheridan, and later as a map table by Gen. George Marshall. It’s now in the Marshall Foundation Library.


Sheridan used this as his desk, evidenced by the marks made by Sheridan’s gold spurs, which he insisted on wearing to work each day.

Detail of the table, with Sheridan’s spur marks on the lower leg support.


Marshall needed a conference/map table when he moved into his larger Pentagon office, and found Sheridan’s table in storage.

Members of the General Headquarters gathered around Gen. George Marshall looking at a map on the table during World War II.


Director of Library and Archives Melissa Davis with researcher Michelle McMahon

Michelle MacMahon, a researcher, has a desk similar in style to ours, which her father rescued from an auction of old Pentagon furniture in the 1960s. She visited the library, and we compared her desk to the one in the museum. While they were not identical, they appeared to have all come from the same set.

Detail of the desk.


Detail of the table.


I looked at photos from the library collection with Michelle, and found one in a scrapbook of Marshall and actress Deanna Durbin that proved that while the desk the Foundation has is from the same set of furniture, it’s not Marshall’s desk as our desk has a different number of drawers.

Gen. George Marshall sitting at his desk in his Pentagon office, visiting with actress Deanna Durbin.


Detail of desk drawers at the Marshall Foundation.


Checking the desk drawers


Examining the desk for leads


So whose desk is it? We carefully removed drawers to see if there were any labels or information that would help us identify our desk, and we got lucky!

Label in one of the desk drawers.


We learned that while the desk was not purchased by Sheridan with the map table, it was ordered several years later, and made in the style of the map table.

We discovered that it belonged to Secretary of War Henry Stimson when he served in the position the first time, 1911 through 1913, and also was used among others, by Secretary of War Elihu Root, and Secretary of War William Taft (later President of the United States).

Incoming Secretary of War William Taft with outgoing Secretary of War Elihu Root, 1904. (Michelle McMahon photo)


It may not be Marshall’s desk, but it has a pretty illustrious history.


Before becoming director of library and archives at the George C. Marshall Foundation, Melissa was an academic librarian specializing in history. She and her husband, John, have three grown children, and live in Rockbridge County with two large rescue dogs. Melissa is known as the happiest librarian in the world! Keep up with her @MelissasLibrary.