Carl Trumbull Hayden was born in the Arizona territory in 1877, the son of a pioneering rancher and mill owner who founded the town of Hayden’s Ferry, later named Tempe, in the Salt River Valley. The young Carl loved reading history and so enjoyed reciting great political speeches that his mother nicknamed him “the senator” and told friends, “Some day [Carl] will be the greatest man in the U.S. Senate.” Ironically, Hayden did become a great senator, but he wasn’t known for his speeches!
Hayden attended Stanford University, but left in 1900 to help run the family’s flour milling business. First elected to public office in 1902, he rose to prominence after 1906 as the gun-toting sheriff of Maricopa County. In 1910, he famously captured a fleeing band of train robbers by pursuing them first in a railcar, then on horseback, and finally by commandeering an Apperson-Jackrabbit automobile, which he rode on the rail lines to gain speed. That exploit helped him win his first election to Congress.
Arizona became the 48th state on February 14, 1912. Five days later Carl Hayden became the state’s first U.S. Representative. Less than a month after Hayden reached Washington, he made his first House speech in support of increased funding for the Forest Service. When he finished, a colleague walked over and said, “You just couldn’t hold it in, could you? You had to make a speech. Everything you said was taken down by the clerk. It will go into the Congressional Record, and you can’t ever take it out. If you want to get ahead here, you have to be a work horse and not a show horse.” Hayden took that advice seriously.
Successful in enacting home-state water and transportation projects, he easily won election to the Senate in 1926. Heeding that early advice, he rarely spoke in the chamber–he became known as the “silent senator”–but his behind-the-scenes power and influence became legendary. He steered many bills to passage, including the law establishing the Grand Canyon National Park, but his proudest achievement was the Central Arizona Project, a water management plan that he nurtured from proposal in 1947 to enactment in 1968. He chaired the Appropriations Committee for 14 years, becoming–in Lyndon Johnson’s words–the “third senator from every state.” In return, senators provided him with crucial votes. A pundit once commented that senators would “vote landlocked Arizona a navy if [Carl Hayden] asked for it.”
On February 19, 1962, Hayden became the first person to reach 50 years of service in Congress. That record grew to 56 years, 10 months, and 15 days by the time he retired on January 3, 1969, at age 91, and remained unbroken for 40 years. (This record was surpassed by Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia in 2009 and by Congressman John Dingell of Michigan in 2012.) Many people wondered how the quiet Hayden lasted so long and wielded so much power. The New York Times attributed his success to the combination of an “an old-shoe personality; devotion to quiet, hard work; uncanny political sagacity; dedication to Senate traditions, and a remarkable ability to make and keep friends.”
His colleagues certainly understood the scope of his influence. Barry Goldwater remarked: “If you can get Carl behind a bill, [then] you’re halfway home.” Hayden was often asked how he managed to do so much while saying so little. Typically laconic, he replied (no doubt while chewing on a cigar): “When you’ve got the votes, you don’t have to talk."