21 Presidential Doodles

For as long as boring meetings and pens have been around, man has doodled—and the bigwigs in the White House aren’t immune. Although we’d like to think that presidential meetings are grave and focused, the folks in charge of the Big Red Button are just as likely as we are to scribble the day away.

But according to a study in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, doodlers have an easier time recalling dull information than non-doodlers. (Actually, they remember 29 percent more information!) Researchers believe it’s because non-doodlers are more likely to daydream, which is a lot more taxing on the brain that you may think. Doodling, in comparison, doesn’t require as much mental effort. As John Cloud at TIME puts it, “Doodling forces your brain to expend just enough energy to stop it from daydreaming but not so much that you don’t pay attention.”

1. Thomas Jefferson

Macaroni was all the rage in 1780s Europe. When Jefferson visited Paris as the minister to France, he fell in love with the cuisine and commissioned his secretary to buy a macaroni machine in Italy. In 1787, he sketched the above design for a “maccaroni” machine.

2. Andrew Jackson

The 7th president passed the time by scribbling alligators and turtles.

3. James Garfield

We can only imagine President Garfield worked out his genealogy with hotdog art.

4. Theodore Roosevelt

This technically isn’t a doodle. Roosevelt wrote hundreds of letters to his children, and he liked adding pictures to the mix. In this he writes, “Ethel administers necessary discipline to Archie and Quentin.”

5. and 6. Warren G. Harding

Harding’s doodle reflect the times—it’s kind of art deco.

Traditionally ranked the worst president of all time, the least Harding could do was scratch out a peacock.

7. Calvin Coolidge

Abstract expressionism didn’t exist when Coolidge was around, but if it had, he might have been a fan.

8. Herbert Hoover

Hoover was a chronic doodler, and most of them were geometrical. A line of children’s clothing was actually patterned after some of his sketches.

9. and 10. Dwight D. Eisenhower

A sword splits the hilt of a knife.

Ike was a decent painter, and his sketches aren’t too shabby either (although he may have exaggerated his biceps here). Guatemala was clearly on his mind. The day before, the CIA deposed Guatemala’s president in the 1954 coup d’état.

11. and 12. John F. Kennedy

One thing was on JFK’s mind that day—Vietnam.

Kennedy rarely drew pictures, so the boat above is a gem. He usually inked words and repeated them over and over until there wasn’t any room left on the page. His last doodle reportedly was smothered with the word “poverty.” (Although some were more random. While at a cabinet meeting, he obsessively penned the words “unemployment,” “communism,” and “cheese.”)

13., 14., 15., and 16. Lyndon B. Johnson

Here’s a challenge, guys. In the comments, try to come up with the best title for all of LBJ’s pieces. Here the devil that breathes fire and destroys a UFO. In the background, a three-headed monster in a dress cheers it on.

Does anyone else think Johnson would have gotten along with Salvador Dali?

A smoking three-eyed octopus missing one tentacle (and wearing, it appears, a necklace.)

We give up. For more LBJ art, here’s an unflattering portrait of Bobby Kennedy.

17. and 18. Richard Nixon

Nixon had a thing for triangles. He scribbled the bottom doodle during his last year.

19. Ronald Reagan

Babies! Horses! Football players! Cowboys! At the bottom, Reagan wrote to Nancy, “There I was doodling away—then I began to think about you. Soooooo….”

20. Bill Clinton

Dammit, Bill.

21. Barack Obama

While Obama was a senator, he scribbled Harry Reid, Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy. But it was for a good cause. Part of “National Doodle Day,” the drawing sold for $2000 and raised money for a neurofibromatosis charity.

For more executive sketches, check out David Greenberg’s book Presidential Doodles: Two Centuries of Scribbles, Scratches, Squiggles, and Scrawls from the Oval Office.

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January 7, 2014 - 2:00pm
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