Historical Highlights

The First House Telegraph Office

June 27, 1853
The First House Telegraph Office Image courtesy of Library of Congress Before becoming President, Franklin Pierce served as both a Representative and Senator from the state of New Hampshire.
On this date, President Franklin Pierce approved plans for the new House extension which included the first House telegraph office, located on the main floor just off the House post office. Primarily built to accommodate the expanding membership of the House, the new wing also offered modern conveniences to the Capitol’s press corps. A gallery located just above the rostrum provided prominently placed desks with a panoramic view of the chamber. Lobbies just outside the reporters’ gallery included desks, pens, ink, and other necessary supplies. The telegraph services, however, proved the most welcome convenience. By the winter of 1857, a special committee charged with examining the new chamber’s construction recommended that the House install telegraph lines directly to the press gallery lobby so reporters could conveniently send their stories to their respective out-of-town newspapers. “By this means, the report of an hour’s speech might be completely set up in New York within fifteen minutes after its delivery,” the special committee noted. The telegraph office’s inclusion near the new House Chamber reflected the technology’s rapid adaptation by congressional reporters ever since inventor Samuel Morse tapped the first telegraph message from the present-day Old Supreme Court Chamber in 1844. Particularly affected were Member’s from rural districts who enjoyed a newfound connection with their local newspapers, which now received information much faster and were better able to compete with large city newspapers. “The country newspapers need be in no fear of being superseded by those published in the cities,” Representative Joseph Root of Ohio declared in 1850. “The electric telegraph has recently given the former an advantage.”

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