Historical Highlights

Speaker John Nance Garner of Texas Receives a 400-Pound Gavel from his Constituents

February 29, 1932
Speaker John Nance Garner of Texas Receives a 400-Pound Gavel from his Constituents Image courtesy of Library of Congress Josephine Sterling, a member of Speaker Garner’s staff, perched atop the giant gavel in the Speaker John Nance Garner's office.
On this date, Speaker of the House  John Nance Garner of Texas received a unique gift from his Hidalgo, Texas, constituents: a 400-pound gavel. Garner received this “unbreakable” gift after shattering many other gavels during his tenure in the 72nd Congress (1931–1933). He broke three during his first week at the rostrum, the first of which shattered on the day he was sworn in. The Speaker’s heavy-handedness soon became a metaphor for his power; the Washington Post described Garner as “smashing gavels and handing down ultimatums.”  Garner was forced to order a gavel made of especially hard, black walnut. In response to his forceful pounding, Garner received many gavels from his constituents, yet none as large as this one. Made of mesquite wood from the Lone Star state, the Hidalgo residents touted the giant gavel as indestructible even in the face of Garner’s vigorous use. After Garner left the House to become President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Vice President in 1933, the Washington Post observed that, in his role as President of the Senate, “we do not expect him to wield a Senate gavel any less vigorously than he pounded several to pieces in the House. Neither do we anticipate he will be any less firm in his utterings.” In 1936, Garner passed the inordinately large gavel to Robert Ripley for display at the 1936 Dallas Centennial Exposition, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Texas’s independence from Mexico. Still the largest in the world, the gavel currently resides in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” museum in San Antonio, Texas.

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