The History of White House Doodles

"Obviously there are much more embarrassing things that have come out about Bush and Clinton over the years. But presidents like to control their images, to decide what sides of them the public sees. So to have someone taking something personal, private, unplanned may feel like a violation even if it's something trivial."

Perhaps the most widely distributed presidential doodle was by President Hoover.

Reporters occasionally wrote about Hoover's penchant for doodling.

A visitor to the White House saw Hoover toss one of his sketches in the garbage, fished it out, asked the president to sign it, and then sold it to an autograph collector.

It was published in newspapers around the country, and a fabric maker lifted the pattern and put it on a line of children's outfits.

The scribble was widely written about and analyzed, and Greenberg says Hoover was annoyed by the attention the doodle received.

As for others:

On Nixon: The book contains a few abstract scribbles of geometric forms, but not many. Said Greenberg, who has written on Nixon, "The man was incredibly inhibited, and he probably found it embarrassing to doodle too much and risk someone finding one." Nixon has been quoted saying he is a "square doodler" and saying, "I draw squares and diamonds and things."

Both Roosevelts -- Teddy and FDR -- were lighthearted sketchers. Theodore Roosevelt drew pictures for his kids; they were filled with dogs and children. Each seemed to tell a story. FDR sketched about his hobbies -- playful pictures of boats and fish. He designed a stamp for the U.S. Postal Service as well as the label to a postprohibition bottle of rum -- though he insisted they change the name of the rum from "Peg Leg."

When it comes to sheer talent, Thomas Jefferson -- a renowned architect -- was exceptionally skilled. But his papers contain proper drawings; the closest thing in the record to sketches are the codes he constantly drew up. Symbols correlated to different letters that he intended as a secret vocabulary for use during wartime. We're told the codes were about as useful as doodles because they were never used.

Of all the doodles, perhaps the most poignant is a simple one by President Kennedy. It's written on stationery from The Rice Hotel, which reads "Houston's Welcome to the World." He drew a sleek sailboat on calm waters. It looks peaceful. Pleasant. He sketched it the night before he was killed.

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