Anyone travelling north through New Hampshire, from Concord to the Vermont state line, has probably noticed they are on the Styles Bridges Highway. The roadway was named for New Hampshire Senator Styles Bridges, who died in 1961 – the year road construction began.
Bridges was one of the state’s many colorful politicians. His career took off in 1934 with his election as governor of New Hampshire. It didn’t end until 1961 when he died, after having won five elections to the U.S. Senate.
1. Poor man to millionaire.
Following the time-honored tradition of the Senate, Bridges managed to make a pile of cash as a U.S. senator. Though poor when he first entered politics, he was a multi-millionaire by the time he died.
One of the funnier anecdotes about his life actually came after he died. At his funeral, Bridges’ widow didn’t know what to do with all her husband’s money. It included more than $1 million he had stashed away – in cash.
Who better to ask for financial advice than her husband’s colleague, and future president, Lyndon B. Johnson, at time the vice president? Johnson’s aide, Bobby Baker, recounted the story:
When Johnson was vice president, he invited me to go with him to Senator Styles Bridges’ funeral. … Doloris Bridges was very fond of Vice President Johnson. She said, ‘Lyndon, I need some advice.’ She said, ‘Styles has got $2 million in cash here and I don’t know how to handle it.’ Vice President Johnson, being the true coward, he said, ‘Talk to Bobby.’ So I told her, ‘The banks are the government. If you put it in the bank, you are dead meat. Whatever you do, do not put that money in the bank.’ I don’t know what the hell she did with it.
2. Investigated Roosevelt’s dog.
In 1945, Bridges led a committee to investigate the air travel of a dog because it had a connection to one of his primary foes: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The dog in question was Blaze, an English bullmastiff that Col. Elliott Roosevelt, FDR’s son, had brought back from Europe. Roosevelt had directed that the dog be sent home to his wife in California when space became available on a military plane while he returned to England.
But Blaze got an upgrade to first class. Instead of flying as space available, the soldier upgraded his classification to “A,” reserved only for items whose delay impeded the war effort. Bridges’ investigation got to the bottom of the matter.
3. Styles and Ike.
Bridges supported President Dwight Eisenhower, but their friendship was not without its rough patches.
Styles wielded power in the Senate by virtue of his position on the Appropriations Committee, which he would eventually chair. One of Eisenhower’s pet projects was polishing the United States’ image abroad via United States Information Agency. Bridges’ liked to cut the agency’s budget when he got the chance. To help curb Bridges’ budget-cutting fervor, Eisenhower appointed Bridges’ brother to a top post in the agency.
4. An oil scandal.
Bridges dodged more than his share of scandals in his time in the Senate. But he played particularly close to the fire in 1956. That year, two oil industry lobbyists – Elmer Patman and John Neff (nicknamed the gold-dust twins) – got caught bribing Senator Francis Case of South Dakota.
Bridges finagled a spot on the “investigating committee,” which naturally took no action against Case. Before the whole matter got shoved under a rug, some inquiring minds wanted to know why the lobbyists had travelled to New Hampshire to visit Bridges twice.
5. He Supported Joseph McCarthy.
Bridges was not particularly public in his support for the communist and homosexual witch hunts of Wisconsin’s Senator Joseph McCarthy, keeping his role in the background.
Nevertheless, when virtually the entire country had grown disgusted with Tail-Gunner Joe, Bridges had to push his support front and center. He cast one of the 22 votes against the censure of McCarthy. Even after losing the vote, Bridges’ put his parliamentary skills to work. He demanded that the title of the bill be described not as a censure, since the final draft of the bill tactually voted used the word condemn, rather than censure.
6. He could keep a secret.
When Roosevelt needed to keep the money spigot open for the Manhattan Project, which gave birth to the atomic bomb, he told only a handful of congressmen what he needed money for. One of those was his very public critic, Styles Bridges.
Bridges used his power and influence to help keep the funding flowing for the development of the bomb. All the while he kept his Senate and House colleagues in the dark about the top secret nature of the weapon they funded.
7. His house is haunted.
New Hampshire’s official governor’s mansion is called the “Bridges House.” It was Styles’ and Doloris’ home when they lived in New Hampshire, and upon her death it was willed to the State of New Hampshire.
The house retains linens that bear the DB monogram, for Doloris’ initials. One of the fun stories about the house is that it is haunted, and that the towels show up in different places, turned over with the monograms facing down. While some speculate it may be Styles at work, others suggest it is more likely one of his other two wives offering an opinion about wife number 3, Doloris. Doloris was a Washington administrative assistant who had bagged the senator in 1944. This type of “hunting” for senators is still a popular sport in Washington.
8. His protégé turned on him.
Bridges’ Senate office gave rise to one of New Hampshire’s more quixotic politicians: Wesley Powell. Powell, an aide in Bridges’ office, launched a run for Senate against incumbent Charles Tobey, Bridges’ fellow Republican from New Hampshire.
Despite flailing Tobey as soft on communism, Bridges’ failed to oust his counterpart. Powell would go on to run 11 times for statewide office, winning the governorship only once. Powell was in office as governor when Bridges died. Powell then refused to appoint Doloris Bridges to fill her husband’s seat, alienating one of Bridges’ key supporters, newspaper publisher William Loeb. Powell would claim he lost his re-election bid because of the appointment, though that does little to explain all the elections he lost before that one.
9. Helped drive a colleague to suicide.
In 1954, Bridges blackmailed Wyoming Sen. Lester Hunt. Hunt’s son was gay and had been caught in a police sting. Hunt’s hometown papers had ignored the arrest. The senator said if it came up in the political campaign, he would quit the race.
Bridges told Hunt that he would publicize the story if Hunt didn’t quit. Hunt quit. He then committed suicide in his Senate office.
10. He was actually a Mainer.
Born Henry Styles Bridges, the senator hailed from West Pembroke, Maine, and he attended college in the state before coming west. In New Hampshire, the Bridges House and a highway are named for him. In Washington, the “Styles Bridges Room” in the capitol bears his name. No word on when Maine will honor him.
This story last updated in 2021.
Images: Bridges House By User:Magicpiano – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22192681.