Doodlers In Chief

generic pencil doodle white house stationary president paper letter CBS/iStockphoto

Many of former presidents expressed their boredom, frustration or intentions through doodling.

"Lyndon Johnson and others doodled a lot on the telephone," historian David Greenberg told Sunday Morning anchor Charles Osgood. "Sometimes you're not even aware that you're doodling when you're doodling, and so the idea is that maybe they give us some glimpse into the unself-conscious president."

Greenberg, who writes about the presidency, said the most prolific doodling presidents were Ronald Reagan, who was good at drawing likenesses; Andrew Jackson, who was the first president to draw representational doodles; John F. Kennedy, who tended to jot down a lot of words which Greenberg said reflected his cerebral style; and Herbert Hoover, who was an engineer and would doodle what appeared to be mechanical drawings.

Greenberg wrote the commentary for a new book, "Presidential Doodles: Two Centuries of Scribbles and Scrawls from the Oval Office." The doodles were collected by Sasha Archibald and Sina Najafi of Cabinet Magazine. Thanks to the Presidential Records act of 1978, presidential papers, including notes and scraps, are public property.

"This is actually the Kennedy file right here," Archibald said while showing Osgood some of his material. "His doodles are quite heavy on text. This is a famous one that attracted us right away with the interlocking squares that say Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam."

After three years of combing through millions of papers and miles of microfilm at Presidential libraries, the editors found they had to expand the definition of doodle.

"Originally we thought it would be a visual rather than textual artifact," Najafi said. "And we thought that it would be something that was done absent mindedly."

"And we immediately ran into Reagan," Archibald said. "I would say he posed the first problem, which were obviously very conscious drawings."

"People liked his doodles," Greenberg said. "He used to give them away as gifts to friends. But his aides put out the word that, if Ronald Reagan is drawing, doodling when you're talking, it means he's really, really bored."

It seems Ronald Reagan thought often of his wife Nancy as she was one of his frequent subjects. Greenberg said Kennedy loved to draw his sailboat, the Victura. But some of Kennedy's musings are hard to understand.

In Kennedy's notes from a Cabinet Meeting, April 5, 1962, he jots down the word communism but also writes the word cheese a couple times. Greenberg said experts began reffering to that piece as the "cheese doodle."

"When the Cuban missile crisis happens, he's got his words 'Castro' in one of those boxes," Greenberg said while showing Osgood another Kennedy doodle. "'Fidel Castro' over here and 'blockade Cuba.' You know, it's almost as if he's reminding himself to pick up the laundry at the end of the day. You know, 'Blockade Cuba, don't forget.'"

Not every President left a pixilated paper trail. Najafi said President George H.W. Bush left very few doodles behind.

"We have the e-mails from Carter, the archivist kindly wrote back and said; 'We get this question from time to time. Jimmy carter did not doodle,'" Archibald said.

President Ford was not a doodler. He fiddled with his pipe. Bill Clinton may have doodled, but we won't know until all his papers have been catalogued. There are no Clinton doodles in the book.

"We do have a couple from Nixon. But for the most part, Nixon was something of a disappointing doodler," Greenberg said. "A lot of boxes, triangles."

Greenberg said Teddy Roosevelt made exuberant, playful doodles that reflected his personality. His second cousin, Franklin Deleno Roosevelt was more "deliberate and self conscious," Greenberg said.

"He liked to draw things that had use," Greenberg said. "So he in fact designed a postage stamp."
  • Caitlin Johnson

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