Rutherford B. Hayes – Early Adopter

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

Time once again for a history lesson. During a speech in Maryland President Obama compared Republican skepticism of alternative energy to President Rutherford B. Hayes’ dismissal of the telephone. In this anecdote, Hayes said, “It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one?” President Reagan repeated the same anecdote in a speech before the National Technology Awards in 1985.

According to Nan Card, curator of manuscripts at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Ohio, just the opposite is true. Card has heard the story before but has no idea where it started.Card paints an image of Hayes as a technology early adopter:

He had the first telephone in the White House. He also had the first typewriter in the White House. Thomas Edison came to the White House as well and displayed the phonograph. Photographing people who came to the White House and visited at dinners and receptions was also very important to him.

Hayes’ wife, “Lemonade Lucy,” is known for banning the serving of alcohol, including wine, at White House functions. This may help to explain Hayes’ interest in the latest geek toys.

But this is a twofer. Obama’s speech contains another opportunity for a history lesson. Obama compared the Republican Party to the “Flat Earth Society”: “If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society.”

Historians have long contended that the idea that most medieval Europeans were flat-earthers is a myth. From Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould’s 1995 book Dinosaur In a Haystack:

There never was a period of “flat earth darkness” among scholars (regardless of how many uneducated people may have conceptualized our planet both then and now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major medieval scholars accepted the earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology. Ferdinand and Isabella did refer Columbus’s plans .to a royal commission headed by Hernando de Talavera, Isabella’s confessor and, following defeat of the Moors, Archbishop of Granada. This commission, composed of both clerical and lay advisers, did meet, at Salamanca among other places. They did pose some sharp intellectual objections to Columbus, but all assumed the earth’s roundness.

That the earth was a sphere was known long before Columbus’s time. Around 240 BC, Eratosthenes, chief librarian of the Great Library of Alexandria, heard of a well at Syene (now Aswan) where the sunlight only struck the bottom of the well at noon on the summer solstice. Knowing the distance between Syene and Alexandria, and the sun’s angle at Alexandria at noon on the summer solstice, Eratosthenes was able to calculate the circumference of the earth.

H/T: TPM, WaPo, The Atlantic Wire, Politico, Dan Amira.

23 thoughts on “Rutherford B. Hayes – Early Adopter”

  1. A dog that sprechs deutsch is not only a talkin dog but a dog that knows when to bark and when to bite. If you get that dog cover your ass if you talk mean to him. He will be loyal but dont be mean.

  2. idealist,

    I use a Roku XD box and stream to the TV. Ethernet is more reliable than the my wireless connection, so that’s how I connect.

  3. TalkinDog nice informative comment. I know you and I disagreed over Maximus’s treatment, but I hope we can make amends. I am considering adopting an adorable mastiff/german shepherd mix, female. What do you know about this breed?

  4. In 1876, Republicans chose Hayes to run for president. He was opposed by Democrat Samuel J. Tilden who won the popular vote. However, the vote in three Republican-controlled states was in confusion. Tilden only needed one electoral vote to win while Hayes needed every vote from all three. When doing the recount, many Democratic ballots were ruled invalid in Florida and Louisiana. A investigative commission voted 8-7 along party lines to give all the electoral votes to Hayes allowing him to win.

    Obama could have chosen a real fact

  5. Bron,
    Julius C. got the rap for the first one, its subsequent replacement (they had backup copies of all docs of course) was done on orders by Christians in 391 AD. Were you there too?

  6. Agora is streaming via Netflix… (Ratings: 7.1/10 from 22,602 users – IMDb)

  7. You mean to tell the US citizens that the earth is not flat…… Oh no….. We’re going to fall off of the other side aren’t we and this is a mere trick by those with the money….. Next someone will say the earth is older that 6 thousands years….. Who needs a stationary phone when we have readily available had held mobile ones that the government can keep tabs on our every whereabouts….. They wouldn’t do that would they?

  8. “murdering of Hypatia by the same” Yes, what a reminder of Christian “love” and “compassion” with the brutual killing of a brillant and reportedly beautiful woman! They were probably early Republicans!

  9. The point here is that Obama enjoys insulting people, but he doesn’t have the grace to be sure the “facts” he is using to insult people are even true facts.

  10. Hayes was virtually tied with Tilden in the Electoral College in that neither one of them had enough votes to obtain the Presidency. Hayes cut a deal with Southern states to end Reconstruction in exchange for their Electoral College votes. Reconstruction was the term applied to the program initiated by Lincoln to integrate and make equal the poor white trash and the newly emancipated black people with the former slave holding oligarchy. The oligarchy resisted with the Ku Klux Klan. Good old Rutherford from Ohio, put the Klan in power in the South where it stayed in power until Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Whereupon the Republican Party, no longer the party of Lincoln, took the low road and now pleads allegiance to the old south ways of bigotry.
    So, if Rutherford from Ohio with the sanctimonious wife had not come along the policy of Reconstruction might have been concluded successfully and we would not have had another hundred years of Jim Crow telling the poor white trash and the black people to eat dog dung in the South. The business about Rutherford being a tee totaller and the other small stuff is for those who wish to gloss over his dirty deal.


  11. So the eternal skirmishing of the ME and the monks burning the library at Alexandria at the bishops behest, the murdering of Hypatia by the same, and the tearing down all the greek academies as repositories on heathenism.

    Who says that war’s research and the scholarship of the church are beneficial

  12. Eratosthenes also calculated the distance to the moon with good results, and less well the distance to the Sun.
    During Lincoln’s time a radio transmission and detection between Washington and Baltimore was demonstrated for Congress. It did not get sponsorship, so research declined. We would have to wait several decades for Marconi to get it all up to steam, if we may mix metaphors.
    There is even indications that infinitesimal calculus was solved by the Sumerians.

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