- Feb 13, 2005
- Reaction score
- Wildwood New Jersey
Speaking yesterday about energy, the president found it necessary to casually slander Rutherford B. Hayes. In Obama’s telling, Hayes was a Luddite who, when confronted with the invention of the telephone, wondered who would ever want to use one.
“That’s why he’s not on Mount Rushmore,” Obama intoned. “He’s explaining why we can’t do something instead of why we can do something.”
According to contemporaneous accounts, what Hayes really said when he first used the phone was, “That is wonderful.”
In fact, Hayes installed the first telephone in the White House, along with the first typewriter, and invited Thomas Edison in for a visit to show off the phonograph — and was no one’s idea of a technophobe.
Obama’s whopper about Rutherford B. Hayes and the telephone
The quote cited by Obama does exist on the Internet, but we would expect the White House staff to do better research than that. (This line was in the president’s prepared text, so it was not ad-libbed.) But the trouble is, historians say that there is no evidence Hayes ever said this. Not only that, contrary to Obama’s jab, Hayes was interested in new technology.
According to Ari Hoogenboom, who wrote the definite biography, “Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President,” Hayes entertained Thomas A. Edison at the White House. Edison demonstrated the phonograph for the president. “He was hardly hostile to new inventions,”
Hayes, in fact, was such a technology buff that he installed the first telephone in the White House. A list of telephone subscribers published in the article “The Telephones Comes to Washington,” by Richard T. Loomis, shows that the White House was given the number “1.”
The President at the Telephone
About 3 o’clock the President enjoyed a new sensation. Under the direction of Mr. Fred A. Gower, managing agent of Prof. [Alexander Graham] Bell, a telephone wire was connected with the Western Union Telegraph wire, tendered for the purpose of manager Bradford, and telephone communication established with Prof. Bell at the City Hotel in this city.
The President was then invited to place one of the telephones, which by the way resembled a rather large-sized bobbin, against one ear, which he did, when Mr. Gower spoke in the other in a moderate tone of voice, saying, “Prof. Bell, I have the honor to present to you the President of the United States, who is listening at the other telephone; do you understand?”
The President listened carefully while a gradually increasing smile wreathed his lips, and wonder shone in his eyes more and more, until he took the little instrument from his ear, looked at it a moment in surprise, and remarked, “That is wonderful.”
During this time Prof. Bell said, according to Mr. Gower, who was listening at the telephone: “Mr. President, I am duly sensible of the great honor conferred upon me in this for the first time presenting the speaking telephone to the attention of the President of the United States. I am located in one of the parlors of the City Hotel, in Providence. I am speaking to you through thirteen miles of wire, without the use of any galvanic current on the line. I hope that you understand distinctly what I say, and I shall be very glad to hear something from you in reply, if you please.”
At the suggestion to him from Mr. Gower, that he should speak to Prof. Bell, the President said, “Please speak a little more slowly.” A few more messages passed, when the President again remarked, “That is wonderful,” saying he could understand some words very well, but could not catch sentences.
[Pennsylvania] Gov. [John] Hartranft also tried the wonderful little instrument, with much the same experience as the President, saying in answer to a query from Prof. Bell, “I understand you very well.”
Note that Hayes first tried the “wonderful” telephone at the end of June, and then had it installed in the White House just four months later. So, rather than “not looking forwards,” as Obama put it, Hayes quickly embraced the new technology.
In fact, he was a little too ahead of his time, because there were so few telephones installed elsewhere in the county. (The telephone list mentioned above shows only 190 subscribers in Washington two years after the telephone first came to Washington.)
Hoogenboom, who is an Obama supporter, added that unlike many Republicans today, Hayes was an advocate of federal action, particularly spending on education. He even wanted to use the federal budget surplus to direct more money to poor districts.
Besides historians, Obama’s staff also could have checked with the White House Historical Association, which recounts Hayes’s interest in the telephone in a classroom lesson for children in grades 4-8.
Card said the Hayes presidential library has never been able to find evidence of the alleged Hayes quote.
The Pinocchio Test ... Four Pinocchios
It’s bad enough for one president to knock another one for not being on Mount Rushmore, but it’s particularly egregious to do so based on incorrect information.
Hayes is dead and buried, but he deserves an apology.
oops... that darn internet... if it is good enough to be a credible source to verify a birth certificate.. can't it be credible enough for facts?..