Cool Things - Capitol Mail Carts
Instantaneous and digital is the preferred method of communication for modern legislative bodies. In the mid-20th century, though, the Kansas Legislature used a more utilitarian method: two wooden mail carts. Certainly slower, the method was effective nevertheless.
Communication has always been critical to American democracy. From town hall meetings to legislative hearings, it has allowed government officials to address the concerns of their constituencies. The Second Continental Congress recognized this need when it tasked Benjamin Franklin with establishing a postal service in 1775. Kansas lawmakers saw the same need when they built a post office inside the statehouse.
Following a tumultuous territorial period, the Kansas Legislature met for the first time in Topeka on March 26, 1861. In 1870 the east wing of the new Kansas State Capitol was complete so that the legislature could hold its session there. By 1903 the statehouse was completed. Holding 125 representatives and 40 senators, the statehouse received and produced immense amounts of correspondence. To aid legislators in their work, a support staff was provided to complete clerical matters, read bills, and deliver mail.
Staff used the pictured wooden handcarts to deliver mail and legislative documents to legislators in the 1940s. Today, lawmakers occupy offices throughout the capitol complex, but prior to the 1950s they were assigned a small desk on their respective chamber floors. Mail first was delivered to the in-house post office on the third level, and then distributed among the members.
In addition, massive amounts of proposed bills, meeting minutes, and agendas were printed nightly at the nearby State Printers Office and readied for delivery to the statehouse each morning by cart. Controversial bills, such as the repeal of prohibition, attracted attention and increased production to nearly 5,000 copies. At the time, the legislature met on a biennial basis, meaning two years of business were condensed into a single session.
Because the House and Senate dealt with topics at different times, documents were produced specifically for each chamber. A larger unfinished oak cart was marked "House" and served the House of Representatives. This body had more members and required the larger cart. Built by the Hamilton Caster Company of Ohio, the house cart was purchased from Crane Office Supply in Topeka.
Smaller and more utilitarian, the green-painted "Senate" cart was built by the Lancing Company of Kansas City, Missouri. The cart probably was constructed in the 1920s for agricultural work (its wheels are designed to span row crops). It was re-purposed for statehouse duty in the 1930s, an impressive example of governmental efficiency.
While preparing the statehouse for extensive renovations, staff at Legislative Services discovered these carts in the capitol basement in 1994. They were added to the collection of the Society's Kansas Museum of History in 2004, where they continue to communicate statehouse history today.
Entry: Cool Things - Capitol Mail Carts
Author: Rebecca Martin
Date Created: October 2011
Date Modified: December 2014
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.