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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sam Rayburn House Museum Celebrates 1947

By Anne Ruppert, Sam Rayburn House Museum

Last month, the Sam Rayburn House Museum celebrated the year 1947 during its annual Holiday Open House on December 16–18. The event featured themed house tours on Sam Rayburn’s political career in 1947 and activities at his Bonham home in 1947.

The year 1947 was a pivotal time for Rayburn, or Mr. Sam as he was known. Having made continuous strides in the political landscape, Mr. Sam suffered a setback when the 1947 Congressional session opened in January. Mr. Sam probably agreed with his friend President Harry Truman when he coined the term, “Do Nothing Congress” for the 80th Congress (1947–1949). Many of the forthcoming difficulties were a result of the November 1946 elections, which put the Republicans in power in Congress. After serving as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1940, Mr. Sam, a Democrat, lost his position to Republican Congressman Joe Martin of Massachusetts. Mr. Sam’s Democratic colleagues encouraged him to accept the nomination as the House Minority Leader, which he did, and in doing so became a much more vocal presence on the House floor. Throughout 1947, Mr. Sam waged battles against the Republican majority as they supported cutting the budget of Mr. Sam’s rural electrification and soil conservation projects, strict organized labor bills, and cutting President Truman’s proposed budget.

Mr. Sam (center) is presented with the keys to his new Cadillac on the steps of the Capitol building on January 30, 1947. Also shown are Congressman Frank Boykin of Alabama (left), who headed up the committee to procure the $25 donations, and Congressman and House Minority Whip John McCormack of Massachusetts (right). Photo credit: Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama
Mr. Sam did receive some good news during this time. After losing his congressionally funded limousine to the new Speaker Martin, 142 of his fellow Democratic Congressmen, who were instructed by Mr. Sam not to spend more than $25 each, all contributed and bought him a 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood. The presentation of the car was a day of great pride for Mr. Sam, realizing that though he may no longer be “Mr. Speaker” he was still considered “Mr. Democrat” by his many friends in the House. He used the vehicle while in Washington during the 80th Congress as the House Minority Leader and again when he lost the Speaker’s gavel to the Republicans in 1953. The car is now on display at the Sam Rayburn House Museum, as it has been since 1975 when it was donated by E.B. Chapman of Sherman, Texas. It recently underwent a mechanical restoration that took one year to complete. Restored to its 1947 appearance, the Cadillac is one of the most visible and popular symbols of the museum. 

During the Holiday Open House, visitors enjoyed free museum admission and were treated to historically appropriate Christmas d├ęcor that replicated the style of the Rayburn family, including poinsettias, holly, mistletoe, and candles. Baked pumpkin pie was on the table and scented the air in the breakfast room. And as though the Rayburns’ cook Bobbie Phillips was at work preparing Christmas dessert in the kitchen, the smell of sugar cookies drifted throughout the room.


Visitors were able to mingle and relax in the visitors center and were invited to sample refreshments appropriate to a 1947 Christmas celebration. Mr. Sam’s official Speaker of the House china, a gift to him from the 1940 Texas delegates in Congress, was on display in the exhibit gallery. Mr. Sam brought the china home to Bonham in 1947 after he left the Speaker’s office and dining room to Speaker Martin.


The Holiday Open House was a success thanks to our great volunteers, donors, and visitors.

The Sam Rayburn House Museum is located at 890 W. State Hwy. 56, two miles west of Bonham, in the Texas Lakes Trail Region.

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