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President Obama Receives National Geographic Map Cabinet

This is “one gift I will definitely keep,” President Obama said when he was presented with a National Geographic Society map cabinet at the White House earlier this week.


Photo courtesy the White House

“The Obama family loves maps. I like the tactile feel of maps,” the President added, as he admired the cabinet that was leaning against the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. 


Photo courtesy the White House

The presentation in the Oval Office Wednesday, June 10, was by National Geographic President and CEO John M. Fahey, Jr., (seen on the left in the picture above), Global Media President Tim Kelly (on the right), and Executive Vice President Terry Adamson (next to President Obama).

National Geographic Tradition

Fahey told Obama that the presentation of the map cabinet specially constructed for the U.S. President has been a National Geographic tradition that goes back to Franklin D. Roosevelt. “The President said he had previously seen and admired a National Geographic map cabinet that has long been mounted in the Map Room of the White House,” Adamson reported after the meeting.

“The President said he had inspected the map cabinet thoroughly when it was brought into the Oval Office before the meeting,” Adamson said. “He had already spotted some of the special features relating to his personal background, including the prominence or markings concerning Hawaii, Indonesia, Illinois, and Kenya.”

President Obama told the group that he would likely mount the cabinet in his study adjacent to the Oval Office, or in his study in the Residence, the two places he said he did most of his work.  He also said that he might mount the cabinet in the Treaty Room of the White House. 


Photo courtesy the White House

The President also received a specially constructed and personalized National Geographic World Atlas.  He said of the atlas as he laid it on top of the Resolute Desk, “That will remain in the Oval Office.”

National Geographic also presented personalized children’s atlases for Malia and Sasha. “The girls definitely need an atlas,” the President told the National Geographic executives.

The “Obama Family Atlas” 

A National Geographic Family Reference Atlas, which was inscribed “The Obama Family Atlas,” was given for Mrs Michelle Obama. 

President Obama was also given a personally inscribed copy of Reza’s “War and Peace,” a recent National Geographic publication.


Photo courtesy the White House

Constructed in National Geographic’s carpenter shop, the map cabinet is like a piece of fine furniture, Terry Adamson noted.

The wooden front panel contains a World Executive Map. The inside front panel is a World Political Map, followed by rollers, marked with distinctive brass plates, of the following maps: U.S. Political, Hawaii, Africa, Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean (including Israel and Lebanon at large scales), India, Japan and Korea, Australia, Europe, British Isles, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, North America, Mexico and Central America, South America, and a World Satellite Map.

Nat Geo Maps Used by FDR, Churchill for War Strategy

Gilbert H. Grosvenor, then President and Editor of the National Geographic Society, presented the first map cabinet to President Roosevelt a few weeks after the start of the Second World War.

Impressed by the cabinet, Roosevelt asked National Geographic to give a second map cabinet to Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain. Churchill’s cabinet now is displayed at Chartwell, Sir Winston’s family estate in England. Roosevelt’s cabinet is now at Hyde Park, his home in New York (today a National Historic Site.)


Undated photo of National Geographic map cabinet from the NGS archive

Roosevelt and Churchill used National Geographic maps to plan Allied war strategy. On one map of Germany, Roosevelt sketched proposed zone boundaries for the supervision of Germany after the war. Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower is said to have carried a set of National Geographic maps with him as his armies moved into Germany.

National Geographic map cabinets have been presented to many kings, presidents, and prime ministers. President Johnson requested that a map cabinet be presented to Pope John XXIII, in 1962.

The brass plaque on the front of the cabinet presented to President Obama stated: “Presented to Barack H. Obama, President of the United States, the National Geographic Society, 2009.”

This blog entry was based largely on notes provided by Terry Adamson.


Photo courtesy the White House

National Geographic Presents Map Case to President Bush (National Geographic News, 2002)

American Presidency Is Celebrated by National Geographic

Obama Inauguration Photographed From Space


  1. jesson erik
    November 12, 2009, 6:10 am

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives in Washington Wednesday for his first White House visit with U.S. President Barack Obama. The attempt to build political rapport between the two leaders began with a telephone call on the heels of Mr. Obama’s historic presidential victory, and has since been punctuated by international summits, a meeting in Ottawa, and a handful of phone conversations.
    Although the two leaders have met several times, including at the G8 Summit in Italy and the Three Amigos Summit in Mexico, today’s visit marks only the second time the two have met in person and the first time they have done so on Mr. Obama’s turf. As the leaders meet in Washington to discuss their shared future, the Post’s Kathryn Blaze Carlson takes a look back at their bilateral encounters.
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