Sam Rayburn History: Mr. Speaker and his Legacy

On Thursday, March 18, the Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site and the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History’s Sam Rayburn Museum in Bonham teamed up to present a look at the life and career of one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century.

This was the second of a two-part series, and explored Sam Rayburn’s role as the longest-serving Speaker of the House of Representatives in U.S. history. View the recording of the first part of this digital history series: Mr. Sam’s Roots and Early Career.

Please enjoy this recording from part 2.

Unfortunately, there was not enough time to answer all the questions that came in at the end of the webinar. Below are answers to the questions we did not have time for.

  • 1a. Any idea how many things are officially named after Mr. Sam? I remember the student center at East Texas State University (A&M Commerce) is named after him.
  • 1b. When was the Rayburn Office building in D.C. named?

Following is a listing of all the tributes and honors to Mr. Sam:

Postage Stamp:

The Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee held its quarterly meeting the same day as Speaker Rayburn’s death, November 16, 1961. Upon hearing the news of Rayburn’s passing, the committee immediately approved a commemorative stamp in his honor. Postmaster General J. Edward Day made the official announcement during a speech in New York the following evening. Robert L. Miller of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing designed the stamp, which featured a portrait of Sam Rayburn in front of the U.S. Capitol dome. The final design was unveiled on July 30, 1962. The Sam Rayburn Library celebrated the first day of issuance of the stamp with a ceremony on September 16, 1962, the 22nd anniversary of Rayburn’s election as Speaker of the house.

Congressional Gold Medal:

On March 18, 1966, Assistant Secretary of the treasury Robert Wallace delivered this gold medal to the Sam Rayburn Foundation. It was posthumously awarded to Rayburn in 1962. Since 1776, only 168 such medals have been commissioned (the first going to a certain George Washington). Initially meant to honor outstanding military achievements, the scope of the award broadened over time to recognize heroic and patriotic conduct as well as excellence in many areas, including the arts, athletics, diplomacy, exploration, medicine, and politics. Rayburn was awarded the medal in recognition of his “distinguished public service and outstanding contribution to the general welfare…rendered to the people of the United States.”

Submarine:

The USS Sam Rayburn was a fleet ballistic missile submarine launched on December 20, 1963, sponsored by Rayburn’s sisters, Mrs. S. E. Bartley and Mrs. W. A. Thomas, and commissioned on December 2, 1964, with Captain Oliver H. Perry, Jr. in command of the Blue Crew and Commander William A. Williams III in command of the Gold Crew. The submarine was deactivated in 1985 and officially decommissioned in 1989 and reclassified as a moored training ship. Following its deactivation, the anchor and chain from the USS Sam Rayburn were loaned to the Sam Rayburn Museum for permanent display on the grounds.

Rose:

In 1961, the ARP Nursery Company in Tyler, Texas, developed a new hybrid tea rose and debuted it at the Tyler Rose Festival that October. Since the rose was yet unnamed, nursery owners L. A. Dean and Clark Kidd encouraged festival visitors to submit possible names, and “Speaker Sam” was chosen from the suggestions. When the nursery wrote to ask permission to use Rayburn’s name, Kidd described the selection as a “historical Texas name familiar to everyone, loved by strangers…a proper name for one of the rare real Texas roses.” Rayburn, who was bedridden in the Risser Hospital at the time, gratefully gave his consent, and the “Speaker Sam” name became official.

Reservoir:

Sam Rayburn Reservoir is a reservoir located about 70 miles north of Beaumont. The reservoir is fed by the Angelina River, the major tributary of the Neches River. Originally known as McGee Bend Dam and Reservoir, the name was changed in September 1963 following a special resolution adopted by the 88th Congress, changing the name to “Sam Rayburn Dam and Reservoir” in honor of the recently deceased Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, a long-time champion of soil and water conservation. Dedication ceremonies were held on May 8, 1965.

Buildings/Rooms:

In March 1955, House Speaker Sam Rayburn, as chairman of the commission, introduced an amendment for a third House office building, although no site had been identified, no architectural study had been done, and no plans prepared. The cornerstone of the new building was laid in May 1962, and full occupancy began in February 1965. Tradition mandated that the building be named after the Speaker who secured the appropriations for it, so it was named the Rayburn House Office Building.

The Rayburn Room is a large reception room at the United States Capitol where members of Congress can meet with press or constituents. It also serves as a holding room for visiting officials attending joint sessions of Congress.

The Bonham VA was officially renamed the Sam Rayburn Memorial Veterans Center on September 16, 1973, marking the 33rd anniversary of Rayburn’s election as Speaker of the House.

School-Related:

Sam Rayburn High School in Pasadena, Texas
Sam Rayburn Independent School District in Ivanhoe, Texas
Sam Rayburn Intermediate School in Bryan, Texas
Sam Rayburn Middle School in San Antonio, Texas
Sam Rayburn Elementary School in McAllen, Texas
Sam Rayburn Elementary School in Grand Prairie, Texas
Sam Rayburn Memorial Student Center at Texas A&M – Commerce, his alma mater

Road-Related:

Sam Rayburn Memorial Highway, roughly a 40-mile section of Texas State Highway 121 that begins at Texas State Highway 78, two miles north of Bonham,  and ends at its terminus with the Sam Rayburn Tollway in McKinney
Sam Rayburn Tollway is a toll road in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex that goes through Dallas, Denton, and Collin counties in northeast Texas
Sam Rayburn Freeway is a portion of U.S. Highway 75 that runs through Sherman
Sam Rayburn Drive is a portion of Texas State Highway 56 that runs through Bonham

  • 2. Do you have anything from the ballistic missile submarine USS Sam Rayburn (SSBN-635) in the museum?

While the Sam Rayburn House only has commemorative items from that event, including a commemorative plate with a model of the submarine, the Sam Rayburn Museum has the anchor and chain from the submarine displayed on its grounds.

  • 3a. What year was the Farm to Market Road Program started?
  • 3b. What is a farm-to-market road?
  • 3c. Do other states have an FM road system?

Hailing from a small farming community, Rayburn was a big proponent of rural roadways. This first farm-to-market road in Texas was completed in January 1937 in Rusk County. In 1945, the highway commission authorized a three-year pilot program for the construction of 7,205 miles of farm-to-market roadways, with cost to be shared equally by the state and federal governments. Legislation passed in 1949, formally establishing the farm-to-market road system and appropriating funding for the creation of an extensive system of secondary roads to provide access to the rural areas of the state. Texas’ farm-to-market road system initially included just over 7,000 miles of rural roadways, but now accounts for over half the mileage in the Texas Department of Transportation system and is the largest secondary highway system in the country with 3,550 designated routes. Similar farm-to-market road systems have been adopted by Missouri, Iowa, and Louisiana.

The Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site and the Sam Rayburn Museum are planning more webinars on Mr. Sam and his accomplishments. To stay up to date with the latest news, follow our Facebook pages:

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