Historical Background

The Future Offices of Our Congressmen/tiles/non-collection/2/2004_085_019.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
As early as 1903, the first-ever congressional office building was hotly anticipated.
For over a century, Representatives conducted much of their business from individual desks on the House Floor. That changed in 1908, when the House of Representatives opened the first House Office Building (the present-day Cannon building) and Members lined up to get their first work space.

A lottery determined the initial office assignments for 333 House Members. Chairmen did not participate, but were given quarters in their respective committee rooms. With Speaker Joseph Cannon presiding on January 9, 1908, Representatives gathered in the House Chamber. They watched intently as a blindfolded House Page drew numbered marbles from a box. Claude Kitchin’s number was picked first. Amidst applause, he consulted a large diagram set up in the well of the House and chose room number 430—part of present-day Room 414. The applause grew so loud and the proceedings so raucous that Speaker Cannon suspended the lottery several times In a few hours, however, every room had been claimed.

Individual offices gradually changed the institution’s workways. Members spent more time in their offices and less in the chamber. A bell system called them to the floor. Representatives hired secretaries to handle the increasing flow of correspondence from voters back home. Constituents visited when they came to Washington.  By 1913, the effects were clear. The House decided to remove the old Chamber desks and install modern theater-style seating.

Over time, the growth of congressional responsibilities led to the construction of additional House office buildings—the “New House Office Building” (now the Longworth building) in 1933 and the Rayburn House Office Building in 1965. As new buildings opened, offices expanded from single rooms to multi-room suites. Today, there are 441 Member offices spread across the three buildings. At the end of each Congress, vacant offices are reassigned, still using the time-honored lottery tradition.