As a sitting president, you better make sure you have the facts straight before taking a jab at one of your predecessors. During the same speech on energy policy where the president speculated that his political opponents would have been “founding members of the Flat Earth Society” during the time of Columbus, Barack Obama made a comment about the 19th president that doesn’t ring true when run through the fact checker:
“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 Mount 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.”
While the quote President Obama used does exist on the Internet, historians say the notion is inaccurate and would equate the White House’s research to citing Wikipedia.
Ari Hoogenboom, who wrote the definitive biography, “Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President,” told The Washington Post that Hayes entertained Thomas A. Edison at the White House and “was hardly hostile to new inventions.” The Post notes that the gaffe was not even ad-libbed but in the president’s prepared text.
Stephen A. Hayes, a great-great-grandson of the former president and chairman of the board of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio, tells The Toledo Blade that Hayes was such a technology buff that he had the White House’s first telephone installed.
“A misconception has persisted for many years concerning President Rutherford B. Hayes and the introduction of the technology of the telephone. The source of this false impression is unknown,” Mr. Hayes said.
The Blade reports that Hayes’s phone number, as listed in the National Telephonic Exchange, was a single digit: 1.
When asked by the Post, White House spokesman Jay Carney pointed to “multiple media references,” as well as an Encyclopaedia Britannica reference and even a previous comment by President Ronald Reagan to defend his boss’s flub.
“I’m not arguing that this is not in dispute, but the quote is widely cited,” Carney said.