“The House of Representatives, in some respects, I think, is the most peculiar assemblage in the world,” Speaker Joe Cannon of Illinois once observed. Behind the legislation and procedure, House Members and staff have produced their own institutional history and heritage. Our blog, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House, tells their stories.Learn More >
On any given June day, summertime tourists visit their Representatives in the three House Office Buildings near the Capitol. But off the beaten path, at the foot of Capitol Hill, another House Office Building stands in relative obscurity. This is the story of the Ford House Office Building, an old structure that got a new lease on life, becoming the House’s own used Ford.
It started simply enough, a hundred years ago. Americans bought cars. Americans loved cars. And Americans loved politics. So, it seemed almost inevitable that automobiles became rolling billboards for their owners’ favorite candidates. Representatives cheerfully provided different auto accessories, which became a favorite method for taking the campaign on the road.
A Capitol dome, an American flag, and a “part bichon frise and part some other things?” Such symbols of leadership and personality occupy prominent positions in House committee chairman portraits.
Chief Justice John Marshall, the man who single-handedly shaped the constitutional role of the judicial branch of the U.S. government, was one of a kind. But his portrait in the U.S. Capitol? Not so much. The imposing painting, more than 10 feet tall, is based on an earlier Marshall portrait. It’s a painted copy. A copy of a copy of a copy, in fact.
The first trademark granted in the United States used an American eagle, and into the 21st century, marketing textbooks recommended using the Capitol to give products “borrowed interest” from patriotic consumers. Ambitious soap makers in the late 1800s used the iconic U.S. Capitol to give their wares a patriotic shine.