The Senate’s Sweetest Secret

A U.S. senator can pull some pretty long hours on the floor initiating, passing, and enacting the laws that govern our nation, but the lawmakers have a secret that C-SPAN’s live broadcasts don’t reveal. In the farthest back row of the Senate Chamber, near an entrance for easy access, the Senate Candy Desk opens to reveal a drawer full of sweet treats for any legislator seeking a mid-session sugar rush.

The longstanding tradition of keeping a candy stash for snacking Senators began in 1965 with the start of California Senator George Murphy’s term. Though Murphy originally kept candy in his desk for his own benefit, after moving to a new desk in a more highly trafficked area of the Chamber, he opened up his stores to his colleagues. Murphy only stayed in office for a single term, and after his departure, the Senators banded together in one of the few genuinely bipartisan actions in American history to keep the sugar flowing. For the next 12 years, the three successors to the honor and privilege of presiding over the candy drawer stocked only hard candy—but fortunately, sweeter times lay ahead.

Over the succeeding years, the Senate’s secret remained under foil and cellophane wraps, until Slade Gorton(R-WA) outed the collective Congressional sweet tooth in 1985 by announcing to the press his occupancy of the desk, and his intention to “carry on the rich traditions started by Murphy.” We can assume he relished and excelled at the job, since he relinquished the desk to Arizona Senator John McCain for a mere two years before returning for a second tenure and restocking the drawer with “ample quantities” of candies proudly made in the state of Washington.

Current desk-holder Mark Kirk (R-IL) has a theory as to why the candy desk tradition continues to live on, a bipartisan gesture of goodwill even amid contentious two-party debates: “Senators, being older, can get kind of grumpy in the afternoon,” and naturally these elder statesmen of Congress could use a pick-me-up. They’re lucky to have Kirk filling the role of candyman; tradition dictates the desk should contain treats manufactured in the senator’s home state, and Kirk’s Illinois constituents include the Jelly Belly Candy Company, Wrigley’s, and Tootsie Roll Industries.

Worried about taxpayer funds going to keep our senators flush with chocolate? You’ll be pleased to know that the contents of the candy drawer are all donations coordinated by the National Confectioners Association and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, who sent about 100 pounds of Hershey’s candy every three months to Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum during his tenure at the candy desk. How’s that for sweetening the pot?

Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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