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War!:  The Map Room - FDR's Top Secret Communications Center

The Map Room - FDR's Top Secret Communications Center

In January 1942, FDR converted a small room on the ground floor of the White House into a top secret communications center. Modeled loosely after a room used by Winston Churchill, the "Map Room" was a place where Roosevelt could monitor global military activities. Here reports, documents, and coded messages were received, summarized, and filed. Maps posted in the room were used to track the locations of land, sea, and air forces. The drably-furnished office was staffed 24-hours a day by Army and Navy officers. Its convenient location made it especially helpful to a president who had to move in and out in a wheelchair. FDR could drop in at any time. Access to others was highly restricted. Even the Secret Service was barred.

When FDR traveled, a "Portable Map Room," staffed by Navy and Army officers, went with him.

There are only a few existing photographs of FDR's the top secret White House Map Room. This Map Room exhibit is based on these photographs and the recollections of an officer who worked there. George Elsey, a young Navy ensign, was one of a handful of military aides assigned to the Map Room during the war. In the early 1990s, he recorded his memories of the room and worked with artists to create several sketches of it.
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