August 27, 2010 •
The lobby of this Beaux-Arts hotel was the scene where Ulysses S. Grant smoked cigars and drank brandy. Did the people who flocked around him in the lobby start the use of the term lobbyist as we know it?
Since 1847, the Willard Hotel has been an important political hub and has hosted most of the U.S. Presidents since Zachary Taylor. Starting out as a row of small homes, the beautiful Beaux-Arts hotel you see today was built in 1904.
According to the NRHP site, the hotel has had quite a guest list:
“Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln, Grant, Taft, Wilson, Coolidge and Harding stayed at the Willard. Other notable guests have included Charles Dickens, Buffalo Bill, David Lloyd George, P.T. Barnum, Lord and Lady Napper, and countless others. Walt Whitman included the Willard in his verses and Mark Twain wrote two books there in the early 1900s.”
Part of the legend of the Willard Hotel is that it is the place where the term “lobbyist” became associated with people who try to influence government. According to the legend, people seeking to gain favor from President Ulysses S. Grant would find him smoking cigars and drinking brandy in the lobby of the Willard Hotel.
Here is a 2006 NPR recording of Liane Hansen on “Weekend Edition Sunday” talking to Barbara Bahny about the hotel’s reopening and its history of lobbying.
Apparently many people called NPR to point out that the term “lobbying” had existed long before the Willard Hotel, so Hansen did a follow-up piece called “A Lobbyist by Any Other Name?” on the history of the term.
In case you would like to visit, here is the Web site for the Willard InterContinental Hotel today. I wonder if they still allow cigar smoking in the lobby?
On that note, I’ll end with this quote from the NRHP Web site:
“It was Vice President Thomas R. Marshall, irritated at the Willard’s high prices, who there coined the phrase ‘What this country needs is a good 5-cent cigar.’”
The photo at the top is by AgnosticPreachersKid on Wikipedia.