Home to more than 13,000 artifacts and works of art, the House Collection encompasses the institution’s history. This Edition for Educators highlights pieces that reflect the relationship between material culture and the history of the nation’s legislature. Photographs, historic tools used each day in the House, and even 1970s pop albums document the people, history, and ideas that have shaped the institution.
Collections Search showcases more than 2,000 digitized items from the House Collection. Users can explore resources related to the Capitol interior, baseball, women Members, and life in the House behind the scenes, among other themes. Below are five highlights of the House Collection.
The collection of finely crafted everyday objects—including furniture, ceramics, and metalwork—in the House ranges from the 18th century to the present day. Historic pieces include many that are not only beautiful but are also tools of legislative business, like the House Mace and desks from the House Chamber.
When the House’s new chamber opened in 1857, it boasted 262 desks in the latest Renaissance Revival fashion. The Doe, Hazelton Company of Boston made the desks according to Architect of the Capitol Thomas U. Walter’s elaborate design. Function was an important consideration as well. Wooden inkwells with cloth-lined lids were prescribed, rather than noisy metal versions. The inkwell itself was sunken into the desk so that it could not be taken by “prying messengers and pages.”
From ballot boxes to thimbles, historical objects serve as windows into the people and events that have shaped House history.
House Mainframe Computer Power Switch
In 2009, the House of Representatives upgraded its mainframe computer to a smaller, more energy efficient model. Pictured is the power switch to the earlier, outdated giant mainframe computer first installed in 1996.
Many of the paintings and sculptures in the House Collection depict Members of Congress from every period of the House’s long history. Other works reflect important ideas that have influenced Congress over the centuries. Examining the details of a painting can provide clues about its subject. A portrait of Joseph Rainey is on display in the Capitol.
Joseph Hayne Rainey
The portrait of Joseph Rainey, the first African American to serve in the House of Representatives, was unveiled in 2005. Artist Simmie Knox set the scene in House Connecting Corridor on the second floor of the Capitol. Rainey is seated in a distinctive House Chamber chair designed in 1857. The half-finished Washington Monument is visible through the window, both situating the scene historically and representing the nation’s incomplete journey toward equality.
House Collection photographs capture people, places, and life around the Capitol. Special events, day-to-day work, architecture, and newsworthy moments create a picture of the past. Some images record surprising and quirky moments, like a visit from Bossie the cow.
Bossie the Cow
What was a cow doing near the Capitol in 1921? The answer lies in a House inquiry into rising dairy prices. “Having heard a certain distinguished member of the House of Representatives, a member of the milk investigation committee, declare bitterly that the only way to beat the milk profiteers was buy a cow,” the photo caption explained, “‘Bossie’ arrived at the House Office Building yesterday in search of a congressman owner.” Planted by a protester, Bossie mysteriously appeared in the courtyard.
Nineteenth century engravings, mass-produced images from illustrated newspapers, and political cartoons make up most of the House’s collection of works on paper. However, the collection also includes recent works like campaign posters.
Anthony John (Toby) Moffett Jr. Poster
Artistic giant Alexander Calder relished deploying his talent and fame for political purposes. In 1973, he painted “Red and Blue Waves,” and donated both the original and 1,000 serigraph prints to Toby Moffett’s congressional campaign. Moffett raffled off the painting at a fundraiser. The 1,000 silkscreen prints, of which this is one example, were sold at art galleries to benefit Moffett’s campaign.
Explore other art and artifacts from the House Collection by searching or browsing Collections Search. If you would like to request an image, learn how on our Rights & Reproductions page. We continue to digitize objects throughout the year, so check back for new additions.
This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.Follow @USHouseHistory