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Art & History

Weekly Historical Highlights (January 1 through 6)

January 1, 1789

Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania was elected the first Speaker of the House on April 1, 1789.  He served two non-consecutive terms as Speaker.
Frederick A. C. Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania—the House of Representatives’ first Speaker—was born in 1750 in Trappe, Pennsylvania. From a distinguished Pennsylvania Lutheran family, Muhlenberg was educated in Germany, and became a Lutheran minister in 1770. Several factors favored his election on April 1, 1789, as House Speaker. First, he had practical experience as the presiding officer of the Pennsylvania legislature. Second, the selection of Muhlenberg was something of a political compromise that powerfully symbolized sectional balance for the new republic: President George Washington of Virginia, was a southerner; Vice President John Adams of Massachusetts, was a New Englander; and Speaker Muhlenberg was from the Mid-Atlantic. Third, Muhlenberg’s physical bearing also conveyed dignity and authority. Columbian Magazine observed that his “rubicund complexion and oval face, hair full powdered, tamboured satin vest of ample dimensions, dark blue coat with gilt buttons, and a sonorous voice, all corresponding in appearance and sound with his magnificent name.”

January 3, 1947

January 3, 1947
The first live television broadcast from the House Chamber occurred during the opening session of the 80th Congress (1947–1949).  The two-hour broadcast appeared on a local television station and was transmitted to Philadelphia and New York.  The broadcast captured the ritual of opening day ceremonies and concluded after Speaker Joseph Martin’s opening address.  The House had adopted a rule that television broadcasts could not be made when Members discussed legislative business in the chamber. President Harry Truman watched the proceedings on a special 10-inch television set installed in the Oval Office, in preparation for his own scheduled televised State of the Union Message (the first) in the House Chamber three days later.

January 6, 1882

Samuel Rayburn of Texas served 48 years in the House of Representatives.
Sam Rayburn of Texas, the longest serving Speaker in House history, was born in Kingston, Tennessee.  Rayburn’s 17 years as Speaker—during the 76th through 78th, 81st through 82nd, and 84th to 87th Congresses (1940–1947, 1949–1953, and 1955–1961)—spanned a period from the eve of American intervention in World War II until the first year of the John F. Kennedy administration.  Known affectionately as “Mr. Sam,” Rayburn was a House institution who exerted his influence through skillful persuasion and humor rather than arbitrary rule.  He often brokered legislative initiatives among a group of autocratic and conflicting committee chairmen to whom much of the power in the House had devolved.  Rayburn’s successful effort to expand the membership of the powerful House Rules Committee in 1961 prepared the way for consideration of major social legislation later in the decade.  He died on November 16, 1961, in Bonham, Texas.  At the time of his passing, Rayburn was the longest-serving Member in House history.  In the public mind, his name had become synonymous with the House itself.  The New York Times eulogized him as a man “regarded almost with awe in the House.”  With his death, the editors concluded, “It is as though a part of the Capitol had fallen down.”

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