Earlier today, President Obama — in an attempt at historical analysis — compared the GOP’s skepticism toward alternative energy to President Rutherford B. Hayes’s supposed reaction to the telephone: “It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one?”
“That’s why he’s not on Mount Rushmore,” Obama concluded. “He’s explaining why we can’t do something instead of why we can do something.”
And this is why Obama’s not a historian. Talking Points Memo reports:
Nan Card, curator of manuscripts at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Ohio, told TPM that the nation’s 19th president was being unfairly tagged as a Luddite.
“He really was the opposite,” she said. “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.”
While often cited, Card said Obama’s cited quote had never been confirmed by contemporary sources and is likely apocryphal. A contemporary newspaper account of his first experience with telephone in 1877 from the Providence Journal records a smiling Hayes repeatedly responding to the voice on the other line with the phrase, “that is wonderful.”
But the president could learn from his Republican predecessor. In his inaugural address, Hayes famously said, “He serves his party best who serves the country best.”