Some of today’s lobbyists would have loved the 1860s

If you’ve ever dined at a five-star restaurant on a lobbyist’s expense account, you can thank Sam Ward.

More than a century before K Street was peppered with expensive restaurants serving carpaccio and sea bass, lobbyist Ward was entertaining members of Congress in high style, using food and wine to lure them to his dinner parties, where they just might be seated next to one of his clients.


The stories are all told in a new book by former Senate historian Kathryn Jacob, called King of the Lobby: The Life and Times of Sam Ward, Man-About-Washington in the Gilded Age.

Arriving in Washington in the 1860s, Ward was one of the first lobbyists to understand the power of drawing lawmakers out of the office and showing them a good time, along with the chance to make connections with people Ward brought together. At a time when most Americans ate simple meals at home, Ward served Chesapeake oysters and French wines from Burgundy, causing his guests to remark that his parties were “the climax of civilization,” and his dishes “ambrosial.”

Ward was governed by his belief that “the shortest distance between a congressman and his ‘Aye’ [vote] is through his stomach,” a novel concept in a time when gifts (and often bribes) were the most common forms of influence on Capitol Hill.

Jacob told ITK that Samuel Colt would come to Washington with fabulous engraved boxes of pistols for every member of Congress when his patents needed renewing.

Today, neither Colt nor Ward would have been allowed to offer the extravagant incentives they did to help influence policy, and Jacob said she’d heard from lobbyists who read her book and wished the profession were as permissive now as it was then.

Jacob will be discussing her book Tuesday at noon at the Library of Congress, and again March 3, at the Capitol Historical Society.