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“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.

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Displaying 1–12 of 89 results

How Loud Is a Gavel?

The commanding rap of a gavel punctuates each meeting of the House of Representatives. House gavels have always been practical wooden mallets, perfect for grabbing the attention of a loud, large group of legislators. But how loud is a gavel in the House?
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“As Large as Life”: Lafayette's Portrait

What becomes a military legend most? For the Marquis de Lafayette, dashing hero of the American Revolution, the portrait now in the House Chamber was just the thing. Arriving from France in 1824, it was a huge hit across the nation. Becoming the most famous image of Lafayette during his wide-ranging tour of the United States that same year, the portrait appeared on posters, memorabilia, and even on currency.
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Categories: House Chamber, Art

“Headquarters of Tobacco-Tinctured Saliva”

For generations, chewing tobacco was immensely popular in the House of Representatives. Members of Congress chewed with gusto, and spat tobacco juice with equal enthusiasm. Receptacles for tobacco spittle—spittoons—were a common sight in the Capitol from at least the 1830s.
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What Killed the Political Ribbon?

Ribbons that declared "The Winner." Ribbons for the "Peter J. Dooling Association." Ribbons mourning a dead Speaker of the House. Once, they were all the rage. Then, in the 1890s, a single innovation changed everything. Political ribbons went from reigning supreme as the most portable, wearable, and popular campaign decoration to being a deposed monarch of politicking, exiled to conventions and party dinners. What happened?
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Categories: Elections, Artifacts

The Not-So-Lonesome West

For a House committee, commissioning paintings during the post-Civil War era involved more than matching colors with the furniture. When the House Committee on Indian Affairs hired artist and Army officer Seth Eastman in 1867 to produce nine paintings for their hearing room, his task was not only to decorate their space, but to project an ideology through images.
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Categories: Committees, Art

The Life and Times of a Campaign Button

Each election cycle, campaign buttons bloom on voters’ lapels like flowers in spring. These bright badges come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and boast catchy slogans such as “We Love Lindy.” Campaign buttons made their debut on the trail in the late 1890s with the advent of a new material called celluloid.
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Categories: Elections, Artifacts

“A Bevy of Ladies”

Today, Capitol police officers direct some visitors in the House Chamber through a door marked “Ladies’ Gallery.” Men and women sit there, and always have. So why call it the Ladies’ Gallery?
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Smoke If You’ve Got ‘Em

Hamilton Fish—that doesn’t sound like a great name for a cigar. But for the average smoker a century ago, the name was synonymous with power and position.
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Tie a Yellow Ribbon

Tony Orlando—the force behind a House tradition? The inspiration for the tradition was not his harmonious backup singers or his luxuriant mustache, but his 1973 hit recording, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.” From those pop music origins grew the tradition of wearing a colored ribbon to mark major events, a practice that was taken up by the House during joint sessions and meetings of Congress.
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Carnation Nation

It was the opening day of Congress, and all the popular men had flowers on their desks. “Floral tributes,” enormous congratulatory bouquets, made their way into the House Chamber on the first day of each session of Congress from the 1870s until 1905. Pages and messengers staggered in with vase after vase.
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What's Buzzing in the Chamber?

There’s a funny-looking push button on desks that sat in the House Chamber from 1877 to 1913. Why would a Member of Congress need to ring a doorbell at his desk?
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Categories: House Chamber, Art, Artifacts

George Washington’s Bling

The oldest object in the House Collection is also one of the smallest. It’s less than an inch across, but the man who owned it was a giant figure in American history.
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Categories: Presidents, Artifacts