The announcement Monday that Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) was retiring sparked valedictories all over Washington. Dingell had spent more than 58 years in Congress since he was first elected in 1955, succeeding his father in a special election.
In fact, when Dingell entered Congress on December 13, 1955 at the age of 29, Dwight Eisenhower was finishing his first term, Elvis Presley was a regional celebrity yet to release Heartbreak Hotel, Disney was about to air the last episode of Davy Crockett, King Of The Wild Frontier on ABC and the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns had just beat the Chicago Cardinals on their way to yet another title.
To give a sense of how long Dingell had served, he has been "the Dean of the House," the title given to the most senior member of the House Representatives for over 19 years, the longest tenure in history. The only privilege that comes with that title is swearing in the Speaker of the House. As a result, Dingell has sworn in four different Speakers, starting with Newt Gingrich when he first took office in 1995 after the "Republican Revolution."
Dingell has also set marks for longest time ever in office on Capitol Hill. The Michigan congressman has spent more time in Congress than any other person in American history. Dingell had compiled about a nine month lead over former Sen. Robert Byrd when he announced his retirement. Among those who have served only in the House, Dingell has a five year lead over former Mississippi Democrat Jamie Whitten who retired in 1994 after serving a mere 53 years in Congress.
What is perhaps most remarkable is that Dingell is leaving Congress while still in very good health---at least for an 88-year-old. Although Dingell used a cane to move around, he's still mentally sharp and insisted to The Detroit News that his health was still "good enough that I could have done it again. My doctor says I’m OK. And I’m still as smart and capable as anyone on the Hill." Instead, he said he was leaving Congress because “I find serving in the House to be obnoxious. It’s become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets.”
In any case, Dingell's records for length of service in Congress are likely to stand for the foreseeable future. His nearest rival, fellow Michigan Democrat John Conyers (who got his start in politics as a legislative aide to Dingell), lags his congressional colleague by more than 9 years in office and would have to stay on Capitol Hill into his mid 90s to surpass Dingell's service.