Utah’s Legislature has debated a bill that would place a statue of Martha Hughes Cannon, the first female state senator in Utah and the country, in the U.S. Capitol. But as that bill gains traction, less conversation has focused on what to do with her predecessor — TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth — if his statue is displaced.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 1 passed the Senate 21-7 at the end of January and is currently in the House.
If it passes, Farnsworth fans will be ready. Though the decision will ultimately be up to state lawmakers, some are already hearing from a number of cities that want the statue.
“We want to find a good home for Philo’s statue where he can continue to receive the respect and veneration he deserves,” said Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, who is drafting a resolution that would create a committee to decide where Farnsworth’s Utah statue would end up.
If approved, Sen. Todd Weiler’s resolution would swap Farnsworth’s statue in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol with Cannon’s. (Each state is allowed two statutes in the hall.) Utah’s other statue is of Mormon pioneer leader and Utah’s first territorial governor, Brigham Young.
The Cannon statue at the Utah Capitol would remain, and Gov. Gary Herbert would be in charge of creating and overseeing a nonprofit organization to commission a new one for Washington, D.C.
Proponents of the swap say it’s an important way to honor women’s contributions to Utah’s history. Cannon was a Mormon pioneer, a polygamous wife and suffragette who earned a medical degree from the University of Michigan and defeated her own husband when she won her state Senate seat in 1896.
But opponents say Farnsworth’s contributions were more important to the world at large than Cannon’s. They also note the Legislature voted on this matter 30 years ago, with the help of a group of students from Ridgecrest Elementary School.
Weiler, who has said his resolution is not a way to deride Farnsworth’s history, doesn’t have particularly strong feelings about where Farnsworth should go but is personally “pushing for the Smithsonian.” The Utah Territorial Statehouse in Fillmore also has been floated as a possible site. Here are three other ideas:
Farnsworth was born in a log cabin near the town of Beaver in 1906, where he was raised until he was 12. In an effort to acknowledge these roots, Beaver Mayor Matt Robinson said the Legislature should bring Farnsworth’s statue there.
The city already has a park dedicated to Farnsworth and has a replica of his D.C. statue next to Beaver County’s old courthouse. But if the city received the inventor’s statue, some already have a place in mind for it.
“One of the ideas from one of our council members was to display him in a prominent location in our elementary school so our students could have something to aspire to and see that they’re capable of accomplishing great things,” Robinson said. “Rather than wrapping his statue in bubble wrap and stuffing him in a basement, let’s put him on display for our kids.”
The city has reached out to the governor and sent letters to members of the Legislature outlining its interest in the statue.
“It’s a great story for any rural, local American family to be able to say, ‘Hey, you know Philo Farnsworth? He invented the TV. He’s from Beaver,’” Robinson said.
Farnsworth may not have had strong ties to Lehi during his life, but Mayor Mark Johnson said the area would be a perfect fit for the TV inventor’s statue today because of the city’s commitment to technological innovation.
The city has a number of locations that would be well suited to housing the statue, including Thanksgiving Point and the Museum of Natural Curiosity, Johnson said.
Though he said he can’t take credit for the idea, which he jumped on after hearing rumors that Lehi might be considered as a possible statue site, he quickly offered his support on his personal Facebook with the hashtags #Philo4SiliconSlopes and #BringPhiloToLehi.
“I remember when I walked through the Capitol the first time and saw [Farnsworth] was one of our two statues, it kind of surprised me,” Johnson said. “But as I thought about it, it kind of made sense. … So when I thought about him and my impressions of him as being this high-technology, inventive-mind-type individual, I thought ‘Wow, this would be great for him to be in Lehi.’”
3. Rigby, Idaho
Farnsworth was born in Utah but spent much of his life in Idaho. That’s why Rigby Mayor Jason Richardson has offered his city up for consideration as the statue’s possible future home.
“It was in Rigby, Idaho, where [Farnsworth] was actually in the field and he kind of thought up the concept of breaking up the picture into individual pieces and then sending it over, kind of like a plant in a field, like a potato field,” Richardson said. “And the concept that he developed, he actually presented it to his high school teacher here at the Rigby public high school.”
The city has already honored Farnsworth in a number of ways, with an elementary school, high school and city park named after him. But as Rigby prepares to construct a new building to house its Farnsworth TV and Pioneer Museum, Richardson argues the statue should be part of it.
“We take pride in the accomplishments that he made here,” he said, “and we’d love to celebrate it and continue celebrating education and development.”