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A Terrifying Elevator Plunge, Union Steel & a Shotgun: The History of DC’s Longworth House Office Building

Take a journey through the history of DC's Longworth House Office Building. From a terrifying elevator plunge, to union steel and a shotgun, read about the past of this Capitol Hill icon!
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The “Three Things…” post about Cannon was pretty popular, so we’re going to continue our Hill-oriented posts with another one on the Longworth House Office Building. We suspect that the building houses and equal to possibly larger number of GoDCers (we’ll see with our traffic stats).

Longworth House Office Building (Architect of the Capitol)
Longworth House Office Building (Architect of the Capitol)

1. Elevator plummets five stories with Congressman’s daughter inside

Absolutely terrifying. How are those elevators today? Maybe you will be more inclined to take the stairs after reading this article by the Washington Post from February 23rd, 1934.

Miss Reba L. Doughton, pretty daughter of Representative Robert L. Doughton (Democrat), of North Carolina, narrowly escaped serious injury yesterday when an elevator in the New House Office Building dropped five floors.

The elevator failed to stop at the floor Miss Doughton had ordered and the operator, fearing it was out of control, turned off the electric current, stopping the cab by emergency device.

Miss Doughton, who is employed by her father, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was treated for shock in her father’s office and later sent home.

An inspection of the ultramodern elevator system in the New House Office Building will be made today as a result of the accident.

Doughton last night declared that the “elevator service never has been satisfactory” despite the fact that the system is of the most modern type.

David Lynn, architect of the Capitol, said that the elevator, had not actually dropped but that the operator, Early Gilkey, had become frightened when the cab did not stop when he thought it should.

Miss Doughton spoke highly of the presence of mind of the operator, however, and said that her life was probably saved by the alacrity with which he turned off the power.

Reports that the elevators had dropped on previous occasions, though without injuring any one, were “news” to Lynn.

Don’t worry. I’m sure the elevators have been replaced since 1934. You should be fine.

Representative Robert L. Doughton of North Carolina
Representative Robert L. Doughton of North Carolina

2. Foreign steel not welcome

If you’re pro-union, or maybe from Pittsburgh, this is right up your alley. the Longworth building (then known as the new House Office Building) was being built and a large quantity of foreign steel was discovered to be included in the building materials. And of course, the Washington Post was there to report on it in 1932.

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The office of the Capitol architect has ordered the removal of 15,000 feet of foreign made steel, which had been delivered at the new House Office Building for use as “channels” in holding metal lath as a basis for plaster.

When the McNulty Bros. Co. of Chicago, the plastering contractors, were unable to furnish affidavits that the steel it had purchased from the Hudson Supply Co., of this city was of domestic make, the removal order was issued.

The Hudson Supply Co., according to Horace D. Rouzer, assistant Capitol architect, admitted that it had foreign steel in his storeyard, as well as domestic steel. The foreign material was removed and the company agreed to replace it with steel of domestic manufacture.

The removal order came clsoe on the heels of an order of President Hoover that domestic material is to be used wherever possible in all Government projects. In the building contracts made between the Government and contractors, there is a clause providing that domestic material be given preference over foreign products.

Federal building inspectors have been on the alert for foreign steel as the result of information given by the Concrete Steel Institute that a large quantity of steel has been imported from Belgium.

If you ever happen to be giving a Capitol tour to a Belgian family, now you can tell them that the Longworth building is not made from Flemish steel. I’m sure they’ll enjoy that fact.

3. This shotgun is for the Congressman

The guy in this story would be arrested in a nanosecond. This is from a Washington Post article on March 31st, 1954.

A man strode into the new House Office Building the other day with a shotgun under his arm. He looked the guard in the eye and said: “this is for Congressman Latham.”

If there was ever any thought that the Capitol Hill police had recovered their aplomb since the Puerto Ricans shot up the House of Representatives, this dispelled it.

The guard stared at the shotgun in wide-eyed horror. Obviously he didn’t think he was long for this world. He was still gibbering when the man deposited the shotgun on the guard’s desk and departed without potting a single Congressman.

It may be months before the guard recovers, although he has learned that the episode had an innocent explanation.

It developed that the shotgun belongs to Rep. Henry J. Latham of Queens Village, Long Island. The Republican Mr. Latham is a naval reservist.

Some time back, he loaned the gun to a fellow naval reservist. The latter called up Representative Latham a few days ago and said he wanted to return the firearm because he is leaving Washington.

“All right,” Representative Latham replied without thinking of the effect it would have, “bring it to my office at the Capitol.”

So … literally, it was for the Congressman.

Do not try this today.

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