Samuel Taliaferro Rayburnwas born on January 6, 1882, in a rural area of Roane County, Tennessee. At age five, Rayburn, along with his parents and nine siblings, moved to a forty-acre cotton farm in Flag Springs, Texas. One more child was born after the move to Texas, and every member of the family had to do their share to make the farm profitable. Rayburn's interest in government coincided with the family's move, and it has been suggested that his curiosity intensified due to the "great golden age of Texas politics." As he worked the cotton fields, Rayburn imagined himself making numerous political speeches and engaging in debates with current political leaders. Later in his life, Rayburn recalled that it was during one of these flights of imagination that he decided he would pursue a career in law and politics. Although he was quite young, only eight years old, Rayburn remembers, "After I made that decision, it was settled. I never worried a minute after that about what I ought to do or was going to do." Rayburn received his bachelor's degree in 1903 from East Texas Normal College (now Texas A&M University–Commerce). During his term of service in the Texas House of Representatives, Sam Rayburn attended classes at the University of Texas at Austin and in 1908 passed the Texas bar examination. In 1942, Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania conferred the first of eight Doctor of Laws degrees awarded to Rayburn.
Rayburn in Office (1906-1961)
In 1906, Sam Rayburn won a seat in the Texas House of Representatives, where he served as Representative of the 9th District. He was re-elected for two more terms, and in 1912, during his third term in the Texas House, he was elected Speaker of the House. That same year, he was elected to serve as a Democratic Representative to the United States House of Representatives. This election began a forty-eight year career of continuous service in Washington, D. C. Between 1931 and 1937, he served as chairman of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee. Sam Rayburn supported the majority of New Deal legislation proposed by the Roosevelt administration from 1933 to 1936. As chairman, Rayburn was instrumental in the passage of the Truth in Securities Act, which established the Securities and Exchange Commission. Rayburn participated in the creation of the Federal Communications Commission, as well as the passage of the Public Utilities Holding Company Act, and the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act. Of particular importance to Rayburn was his work with Senator George W. Norris in sponsoring the Rural Electrification Act. The REA was designed to benefit largely rural areas populated primarily by farms by providing funding and organization of electric cooperatives in these areas. Rayburn's own experience coming from a rural area and working a farm without electricity offered him a personal understanding how the passage of the REA could improve rural communities.
Congressman Rayburn was elected majority leader of the 75th Congress in 1937. In 1940, Rayburn was selected to replace the deceased William Bankhead as Speaker of the House, a position he held for a record number seventeen and half years. He also served as minority leader during the 80th and 83rd Congresses, the two periods of Republican majorities in the House of Representatives. Rayburn served with eight different presidents and helped to pass several pieces of key legislation throughout his career, including the extension of the Selective Service Act in 1941. Rayburn was Speaker during both wars and was instrumental in garnering support to fund the Manhattan Project.
In 1948, Collier's Magazine recognized Rayburn for his outstanding congressional service to the country, honoring him with a $10,000 award. Twelve years later, Rayburn was presented with the Cordell Hull Award in recognition of his "long vigilance over foreign trade and support of liberal policy." Later that same year the Speaker received the "Award for Outstanding Republican Public Service." Given by an independent, non-partisan organization, the award cited Rayburn's continued adherence to the principles of representative government. In presenting the award, the organization specifically referred to Rayburn's "championing democracy and support of strong national defense," as well as his "half century of support for sound legislation for that serves as a tribute to his faith in God, country, fellowman, and self." Rayburn was declared as being the epitome of "all that makes America great."
Known by most as "Mr. Democrat," Sam Rayburn was permanent chairman of the national Democratic convention in 1948, 1952, and 1956 and was named Honorary Chairman in 1960. Throughout his political career, Rayburn was known for his ability to balance his strong Democratic partisanship with his unwavering sense of dedication to meeting the needs of the American people. Despite the status the Speaker was able to achieve in Washington, he was still known as "informal" and a "down home kind of guy" who returned to his home in Bonham as soon as Congress adjourned for the session. When home, Rayburn would meet with his constituents concerning their needs, maintaining that his obligation to the people was not finished. Once the museum opened, the Speaker utilized the replica office as a meeting place.
The period between 1957 and 1961, the time Rayburn used the Rayburn Museum office, saw several significant achievements in American government. In 1957, Congress voted on the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the first Civil Rights legislation since Reconstruction. Another Civil Rights Act was passed in 1960. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established to provide civilian control over the nation's space program. Alaska and Hawaii were admitted as the 49th and 50th states in the United States. In 1958 the National Defense Education Act provided the first significant federal contribution to public education since Reconstruction. Also in 1958 was the passage of the Hospital Survey and Construction Act, the first legislation which provided federal grants for construction of hospitals and healthcare facilities.
Sam Rayburn accomplished much in his lifetime by the fulfillment of his dream to be a politician, and he is a source of pride for those all over northeast Texas. Rayburn passed away in Bonham on November 16, 1961, and was buried at the Willow Wild Cemetery, a few blocks from the Rayburn Museum, on November 18. Rayburn's remains laid in state in the museum building for twenty-four hours. Thousands of mourners, from school children to national officials, filed silently past his bronze coffin in tribute to his service and dedication. The Texas Department of Public Safety estimated 15,000 people filled the streets on the day of Rayburn's funeral. President John Kennedy, former Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman, and future President Lyndon Johnson attended the funeral services. The entire Texas Congressional delegation and 105 members of Congress attended the services and many came to the museum. Network television provided live coverage of the funeral service from the First Baptist Church in Bonham.