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

Plastic Fantastic

Bakelite Desks
Stylish! Modern! Sturdy! And cheap! In the 1930s, Bakelite, an early plastic, was touted as “The Material of a Thousand Uses.” What uses, exactly? In one instance, desks for Congress.

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Leave No Forwarding Address: When Congress Almost Abandoned D.C.

Admiral George Cockburn
It was a low moment. When the 13th Congress (1813–1815) trickled into Washington, D.C., in September 1814 for a third session, they found a terrorized community, most public buildings destroyed, and a humiliated army on retreat. Once the grandest building in North America, the unfinished Capitol resembled a charcoal briquette. And though the invading British forces had departed more than three weeks previously, the damage they inflicted—both physical and emotional—very nearly convinced the shocked legislators to abandon Washington for good.

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Categories: Institution

Take a Seat

For more than a century, a desk in the House Chamber was a Member’s office. He stowed his hat beneath his chair, wrote and stored papers in the writing desk, and occasionally propped his feet up to listen to debate. Why did picking one's desk matter?

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“Harry Needs a Rest”

Harry Parker
In an institution still largely segregated and even unwelcoming to its African-American Members in the 1930s, Harry Parker’s six decades of loyal service to the House engendered respect and affection. The New York Times described the House Chamber’s 1937 celebration of Parker's retirement as the “most extraordinary tribute ever paid” to an African-American in the House up to that point.

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Categories: People

Edition for Educators—Hispanic Heritage Month

Romualdo Pacheco
Learn about the efforts and accomplishments of Hispanic Americans in Congress for Hispanic Heritage Month.

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Categories: Education, People

Hoist the Colors!

Captain Samuel C. Reid
Tasked with updating the American flag following the War of 1812, New York Representative Peter H. Wendover sought the advice of Captain Samuel C. Reid, one of America’s most famous privateers. After privateering under the star-spangled banner, what fresh ideas could Reid bring to the much-needed new design?

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Categories: People, Legislation