History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives

Inside the Chamber on Opening Day

Every two years, as mandated in Article I, Section 2, of the Constitution, the U.S. House of Representatives starts a new legislative session, known as a Congress. Using longstanding precedent and a few highly visible artifacts, the House embarks on the pomp and ritual of its biennial Opening Day.

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Categories: House Chamber, Opening Day

Before the Flag

In 1929, the Capitol celebrated Flag Day with the United States Flag Association rolling out the (allegedly) largest flag in the world on the West Front, accompanied by an amplified, patriotic program. But what about the normal-sized, everyday flags in the Chamber? One might assume that its current spot— front and center, behind the Speaker on the rostrum—was always the case. However, there is no official protocol on flag display, so we turn to images from the House Collection to piece together the history of the flag in the House Chamber.

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Ten Trumpets and a Flying Coffin

What did it take to be heard in the House of Representatives? Acoustics were notoriously bad in the House Chamber in the early 20th century. Getting from “wait, what?” to “loud and clear” required three tries, ten trumpets, and a flying coffin.

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(Congress)Men without Hats

British traveler Henry B. Fearon cast a critical gaze from the House Gallery across the frothy sea of nearly 200 Representatives of the 15th Congress (1817-1819). "Spitting boxes are placed at the feet of each member, and, contrary to the practices of the [Senate], members and visitors wear their hats."

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Photography’s Ghosts

1913 electoral vote count
What’s that in the back of the House Chamber? Is the camera out of focus, or could there be a ghost in the Capitol?

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The Saga of “Sausage” Sawyer

In politics as in life, everyone discovers that they have to choose their battles, deciding when to fight and when to walk away. The lucky ones get to learn this lesson early and in private. Then there are others, like Ohio Representative William Sawyer.

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Categories: People, House Chamber