For many years, Senator Carl T. Hayden (D-AZ) was the longest-serving member of Congress, with a combined House and Senate service of 56 years, 10 months, and 15 days. (This record was surpassed by Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia on November 18, 2009.)
Thirty-four-year-old Carl Hayden arrived on Capitol Hill in 1912 as Arizona’s first member in the House of Representatives. He retired as that state’s senior senator on January 3, 1969, at the age of 91. Hayden spent 56 consecutive years in Congress, including 42 in the Senate, for a total of 20,773 days.
Born in 1877 in the frontier territory of Arizona, Hayden attended Stanford University, but left in 1900 to help run the family’s flour milling business. Active in local politics, he rose to prominence as sheriff of Maricopa County. Once, he captured a fleeing band of train robbers in his Apperson-Jackrabbit automobile without firing a shot. That exploit helped him win his first election to Congress.
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. Two years later, he participated in a six-week filibuster related to western water access. For the next 20 years, however, he made no speeches. Hayden concentrated his energies in the committee room and the cloakroom. Through the 1950s and 1960s, he found it necessary to speak occasionally, but always briefly. "When you’ve got the votes," he explained, "you don’t have to talk."
Every western water project bore Hayden’s stamp. His greatest achievement was the Central Arizona Project, which he nurtured from proposal in 1947 to enactment in 1968. At the time Hayden left the Senate in 1969, one newspaper editor observed, "Carl Hayden, more than any other man, created what America knows today as Arizona." Lyndon Johnson credited Hayden, who chaired the Appropriations Committee for 14 years, as the "third senator" from every state.