The Speaker’s rostrum is the focal point of the Chamber. From here, the proceedings of the House are directed and recorded, so it has both practical and symbolic importance. The details and materials have changed over the course of the space’s history, but the symbols and images surrounding it have remained consistent. Victorian taste was practically synonymous with “old and outdated” by the time the Chamber needed extensive repairs in the 1940s. So, when the Chamber underwent a complete overhaul beginning in 1947, a fresh look was in order. The new décor was influenced by the classically inspired and restrained Federal style—as seen in the oldest parts of the Capitol.
The Marble Rostrum
The original rostrum was made entirely from marble, decked out in high Victorian style. The wall behind it was adorned with painted cast iron and plaster, and included fasces—a Roman symbol of authority composed of an axe surrounded by a bundle of rods—and floral motifs.
By 1938, an engineering survey noted that “the roof framing of... the Capitol, constructed in the 1850s, was obsolete and far short of present-day safety requirements, and should be replaced without delay.” This 1940 photograph shows a scaffold—which was constructed that year and remained in place until the repairs were finished in 1949—supporting the failing structure while Congress continued to meet in the room.
The Renovated Rostrum
The official 1952 report on the new look for the Chamber stated that it was intended to “provide a meeting room for the House in keeping with the importance of the deliberations of the legislative branch.” The new rostrum was more spacious, providing additional work space for clerks and official reporters in addition to its more modern look.
The House Chamber Rostrum
The new rostrum and desks were made from walnut, with decorations of hand-carved wreaths and inscriptions reading “Union,” “Justice,” “Tolerance,” “Liberty,” and “Peace” on its front. Relief carvings of laurel branches are on the front of the upper level. The white cast-iron decorative panels behind the rostrum were replaced with grey marble. The fasces motif was retained on either side of the U.S. flag, though the new versions were cast in bronze.
Fasces are a symbol of civic authority originating in ancient Rome. Fasces—axes surrounded by a bundle of rods, which were bound together by red straps—were carried by guards before processions of Roman lawmakers. The United States adopted fasces as a symbol of the authority of Congress and as a reference to Republican Rome. The Founding Fathers consciously cultivated this association during the formation of the United States. Fasces also refer to the philosophy of American democracy. Like the thin rods bound together in fasces, the small individual states achieve their strength and stability through their union under the federal government.
Relief carvings enhance the clean-lined walnut rostrum. Stars surrounded by laurel wreaths, a traditional symbol of victory, alternate with single-word inscriptions across the front. The inscribed words—Union, Justice, Tolerance, Liberty, and Peace—emphasized what the nation hoped to promote in its then-new role as a major world power in the post–World War II era.