Check out the amusing history of our American House Speakers and the gavels they wield like weapons in the political chamber.
Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California addresses the House after giving newly elected House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio the gavel.
From Denny: Talk about funny. Remember when outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gave her last speech as Majority Leader and handed over that outrageously large whacking gavel to incoming GOP Speaker John Boehner? Remember that huge honking gavel that looks more like a croquet mallet, a veritable weapon? Does Boehner plan to play Whack A Mole on the House floor? If terrorists attacked the House Chamber all the politicians would have to do is slam them with that huge gavel to get some order in the House.
The Senate Gavel
So where does the tradition of these huge honking gavels come from anyway? In the Senate from 1789 up until the mid-1950's they used a very unique looking ivory gavel. The Senate was steeped in tradition for centuries. That gavel was more of a knocker as it was possessed no handle. The original Senate gavel was carved from a single elephant tooth, shaped into an ivory cube.
So, why did the Senate quit using the famous tradition ivory gavel? It held up well over the centuries until a heated debate in 1954 involving Vice President Richard Nixon. They were arguing about civilian nuclear power. Nixon got so angry that he crashed down the gavel so forcefully that it smashed into several pieces. Some might say it was an omen of things to come when later President Nixon resigned from office, the first President to do so in American history, rather than face impeachment for his crimes.
When India first became a newly independent nation they gave America a Senate gavel replacement in 1954. It is not identical for it has a floral band carved around its center. This replica stands four-inches tall like the original. Here's to slamming your desk with a fancy elephant tooth. Government sure has some weird ideas about governing.
Today's Senate Gavel
Currently, the Senate gavel is a bit of an odd duck because it has no handle either. It looks more like an hour glass or a weird egg cup straight off the breakfast table. Yes, now you know what the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has had in the palm of his hand, slamming hard on the podium. I'm glad someone finally explained it to me as it sure looked odd.
Where did the House and Senate's big gavels come from? Many have been made in the House carpenter's shop, usually crafted from lacquered maple. The huge whacking hammer of a mallet that Speaker Boehner possesses was given to him by an Ohio constituent who crafted it for him. It does make a person wonder if they plan to use it to whack about $100 million out of the budget or maybe just slam to pieces the President's agenda. Either way it has the tone of the bully about it.
Speaker John Boehner
Funny history of the House gavel
Turns out there have been many a House gavel created, often because they were shattered by enthusiastic Speakers. Makes you wonder how many podiums have been replaced as well over the centuries. Check it out. In 1906, Speaker Joseph Cannon - what a perfect name for this story that is true - hit his desk so forcefully that the gavel's head took flight, coming in for a landing between the clerks on the lower tier of the rostrum. Yes, those autocratic types sure know how to show the House a good time. So much for a gavel living the life as a professional politician's tool.
Not to be outdone there was Speaker Champ Clark who managed to break two gavels - and that was just during the opening session! Speaker Nance Garner also broke his fair share of gavels. Garner broke three gavels during the first week of the 1931 session. Guess that Speaker was a bit embarrassed by his vigor as he ordered an "unbreakable" gavel to be made from sturdy black walnut after that congressional session.
Speaker Sam Rayburn was the longest serving House Speaker. He enjoyed collecting gavels, one of which was made from the timber of the burning of the White House back in 1814.
Not to be outdone is the comedy crowd: SNL
SNL Skit: Nancy Pelosi Demonstrates What Makes John Boehner Cry
Comic Kristen Wiig played Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Bill Hader played Speaker Jon Boehner, pretending to be guests on Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. The skit goes that Nancy presents John with the Speaker's gavel, you know the outgoing Speaker gives over the political symbol of the gavel to the incoming Speaker.
Of course, the fake Boehner decides he will reciprocate a gavel to now Minority Speaker Pelosi, so he gifts her with a teeny, tiny girly pink gavel. Of course, not to be outdone on that one, Nancy makes a decision of her own: She gives John Boehner something to really cry about since weeping is for what he is so famously known. They don't call her Competition Nancy for no reason. Tiny gavel but Big Mind. I want her on my team!
Photo of Speakers Pelosi and Boehner by Charles Dharapak from AP images
Photo of Speaker Boehner and huge gavel by Getty Images
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18 January 2011
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