When Congress balked over free government cars for the Speaker of the House

Speaker of the House, Joseph Gurney Cannon in 1921

From The Historian of House Blog:

The first telegraphic message ever sent traveled from the U.S. Capitol building to a Baltimore train station on May 24, 1844. A year earlier Congress had given the telegraph’s inventor, Samuel Morse, $30,000 to fund his research and erect 40 miles of cable. With Congress’s support, Morse began a communications revolution. Within decades, telegraph lines stretched across the nation and news and information spread at the blink of an eye.

Future Speaker of the House Joe Cannon of Illinois had just celebrated his eighth birthday when Morse’s invention suddenly shrank the accepted conventions of time and space. The telegraph, combined with the railroad, helped create the world of Cannon’s early years. Congress saw its utility and readily adopted the wire technology. By the late 1850s, the House of Representatives had installed a telegraph office near the House Press Gallery. And by the early 1880s, when Cannon served as a U.S. Representative from the town of Danville, Illinois, the telegraph desk outside the House Chamber bustled with activity.

But it was another invention, one that also upended the physical dimensions of American life, that revolutionized Cannon’s later years: the automobile.

Much like the telegraph, Congress decided early on to adopt automotive technology in the federal government. In 1909 Congress appropriated money specifically to purchase automobiles for the President; only months later, it considered providing the Speaker and the Vice President with similar funding. But not every Member believed the government should spend public money on what would essentially be a private car, and not every Member wanted to give Cannon such a generous perk. The telegraph had started a new chapter in American history. The automobile would, eventually, do the same. The question this time was whether Congress would go along for the ride.

Read the rest of the article at the Historian of the House Blog.

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