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Current President Puts Words in Former President’s Mouth

This past Thursday, during an energy speech, President Obama said that president Rutherford B. Hayes questioned why anyone would ever want to use a telephone. It would have been a great example of the point he was trying to get across except for, apparently, President Hayes never said that.

Of course, we’ve heard this kind of thinking before.  If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society.  … There always have been folks who are the naysayers and don’t believe in the future, and don’t believe in trying to do things differently.  One of my predecessors, Rutherford B. Hayes, reportedly said about the telephone, ‘It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one?’ That’s why he’s not on Mt. Rushmore because he’s looking backwards.  He’s not looking forwards.  He’s explaining why we can’t do something, instead of why we can do something.”

- President Obama 3/15/2012

Nope, it doesn’t appear President Hayes was ever “reported” to have said any such thing. Nan Card, curator of manuscripts at the Hayes Presidential Center, apparently answered several calls regarding the presidents remarks this week and she revealed that Hayes not only completely embraced the telephone, he was the president who had the first phone installed in the White House just months after he first tried out the new invention (despite the fact that the technology was far from perfect, Hayes had a hard time hearing his first ever conversation on a telephone).

A Washington Post blog has the text of an article from the Hayes archives from the June 29, 1877 version of the Providence Journal which clearly shows Hayes thought this new invention was “wonderful”.

The President listened carefully while a gradually increasing smile wreathed his lips, and wonder shone in his eyes more and more, until he took the little instrument from his ear, looked at it a moment in surprise, and remarked, “That is wonderful.”

Sounds to me like President Obama hasn’t ever really studied President Hayes and knows very little about him.. But, to be fair, neither did I before I looked up information to use in this post today.

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