World’s fairs were big business at
the turn of the 20th century, and constituents—with scores of pro-fair campaign
postcards in hand—lined up behind San Francisco Representative Julius Kahn’s
efforts to bring the 1915 event to the city by the bay.
“To be a gallery god in the House of Representatives is to have a free seat at a unique performance.” So said one newspaper, and for two centuries Americans have agreed, with gusto. The House Collection contains some of the oldest (and newest) varieties of gallery tickets, from scribbled passes to high-tech printed ones.
Buttonholing Members of Congress to tell them how you think they should vote—that’s as old as the republic itself. But calling it “lobbying”? Where does that come from?
Once upon a time, in 1918, the U.S. House of Representatives
received a gift of two porcelain vases. They were exquisite. Commanding
attention, standing nearly six feet tall, the attractive vessels were a gesture
from France expressing gratitude for America’s role in World War I.
Large and small, the questions came, and @USHouseHistory answered them during #AskACurator day on September 17. In what has now become an annual Twitter event, 47,546 tweets used the hashtag #AskACurator to pose questions to and elicit answers from curators at 721 museums in 43 countries. They weren’t all directed to or coming from the House, but many were, and the House Curator Farar Elliott spent an hour answering them. Here are some of the most intriguing responses.
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.
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?
As long as people have traveled, they have wanted to share experiences with the folks at home, and nearly 200 years of tourism show that visitors to the Capitol are no exception. The invention of picture postcards in the late 19th century added a level of efficiency to the impulse to share, and quickly escalated into a mailing frenzy. And as a prime destination, the Capitol was a mainstay of the genre with every photogenic part finding its way through the mail.
upon a time, a young man came to Washington. He wasn’t sophisticated, but he
had loads of ambition. He was destined to leave his mark on Congress. No, it
wasn’t Jimmy Stewart's fictional character arriving in 1939 to clean up the corrupt Senate in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
“No good legislation comes out of Washington after June.” Speaker of the House John Nance Garner spent 30 years in Congress, and he knew to get out of town ahead of the wilting summer weather. Washington in July and August is a desperately swampy place. Then one day in 1928, “manufactured weather” arrived in the House of Representatives’ Chamber.
“Gastro psychologist, doctor of roasts” was the honorary
title bestowed on House Restaurant proprietor Tom Murrey by the Washington Post
in an 1894 article. The
reason for this accolade was Murrey’s theory on the relationship between what a
Member would eat at lunch and what legislative work he accomplished—or rather,
peas, Vanderbilt dressing, kraut juice, steak Stanley, and kaffee hag – now that
sounds like a hearty meal. Historic menus from the House Restaurant, dating
back more than 80 years, include some incomprehensible dishes.