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Material Culture of the Senate

Dictionaries define "material culture" as the "the physical objects created by a culture; the buildings, tools, and other artifacts created by the members" of a particular group, society or agency. Many of these tools and artifacts we take for granted, but such objects are valuable components of any institution's history.

Desk, Senate Chamber

U.S. Senate Financial Clerk's safe

Image: Willard Clock (Cat. no. 54.00002)

The Senate's material culture includes the historic desks in the Senate Chamber, the unique ivory gavel used by the presiding officer, and the stately Ohio Clock. Some items are institutional in purpose, such as the Senate seal, while others are closely connected to specific individuals or events. They might be as small as a snuff box, as inconspicuous as the pineapple fixture, or as large and prominent as the majestic Eagle and Shield, but they are all components of the Senate's story. The preservation of this material culture exemplifies the Senate's respect for history and tradition.

Past Feature Articles


Senate Historical Office

Historical information provided by the Senate Historical Office.

Senate's Institutional history

It was up to the first Senate in 1789 to organize, establish its rules, and set precedents that would govern its actions in years to come, evolving into a complex legislative body.