The Taft family of Cincinnati, Ohio, has inspired two major Capitol Hill landmarks. William Howard Taft, the nation’s 27th president and 10th chief justice, successfully campaigned for construction of the Supreme Court Building, allowing the Court to move out of its cramped Capitol quarters in 1935. His son, Robert Alphonso Taft, who represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate from 1939 until his death in 1953, is the subject of the Taft Memorial, located one block north and west of the Capitol.
On April 14, 1959, a crowd of 5,000 braved a morning chill as President Dwight Eisenhower dedicated the Taft Memorial to the deceased Republican Senate majority leader whose presidential hopes Eisenhower had extinguished in the 1952 Republican primaries. Following Eisenhower’s brief remarks, and a eulogy by former President Herbert Hoover, Vice President Richard Nixon accepted the structure on behalf of the Senate.
The memorial, authorized in 1955, includes a 100-foot bell tower of Tennessee marble resting on a base 15 feet above ground level. A 10-foot bronze statue of Robert Taft stands on that base, along the tower’s west side. Incised in the marble above his head are words paying tribute to “the honesty, indomitable courage and high principles of free government symbolized by his life.” The bell tower’s unadorned design reflects Taft’s “simple strength and quiet dignity.”
The tower’s carillon includes 27 matched bronze bells ranging in weight from six tons to 126 pounds. The large central bell strikes on the hour, while the smaller fixed bells chime on the quarter-hour. By resolution of Congress, they play the Star Spangled Banner at 2 p.m. on the Fourth of July.
A month before the tower’s dedication, a portrait of Robert Taft had been unveiled in a Senate Reception Room ceremony honoring five outstanding former senators
These memorial activities sparked great interest, over the next quarter century, in naming office buildings and Capitol rooms after esteemed former members.
Portrait of Robert A. Taft