In 1911, South American history lecturer Hiram Bingham III (1875-1956) formed the Yale Peruvian Expedition and managed to discover and properly identify the ancient civilization of Machu Picchu. He would visit the place twice more, the final time in 1915. This was an amazing discovery for a non-archaeologist and in 1948 he wrote Lost City of the Incas, detailing his discoveries and theories. He served as an inspiration for the character Indiana Jones and most archaeologists will only dream of making such discoveries in the course of their careers.
Bingham’s prominence resulted in a political career in the United States, and in 1922 he was elected lieutenant governor of Connecticut. In 1924, he was elected to replace the late Senator Frank B. Brandegee, a tragic figure who had committed suicide on account of failing health and finances. Like Brandegee, Bingham was a staunch conservative. He even went as far as opposing reauthorization of the Sheppard-Towner Maternity Act, which had been passed overwhelmingly in 1921. Bingham also became known for his advocacy for the commercial expansion of aviation and became known as “the flying senator” for his stunts such as landing a blimp on Capitol Hill.
In 1929, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee investigated Bingham’s professional relationship with his clerk, who served as a lobbyist when off the clock. This allowed said lobbyist special access to Finance Committee meetings on tariff legislation. Although initially the Judiciary Subcommittee condemned Bingham’s arrangement but called for no action, Bingham responded poorly and accused the subcommittee of engaging in a partisan “witch hunt”. The result of his reaction was further investigation by the Senate, resulting in his censure on November 4th of that year. He is only one of nine senators to be censured for their behavior in office. Bingham’s experience serves as an important lesson in not placing your foot in your mouth.
Bingham’s censure combined with the Great Depression’s impact on the Republican Party resulted in his defeat for reelection in 1932, losing to Democrat Augustine Lonergan. Ironically, at least two of his seven sons would take vastly different political roads: his son, Alfred Bingham, was a radical before he settled on being a New Deal Democrat, and another son, Jonathan Bingham, served as a staunchly liberal Democratic Congressman from New York from 1965 to 1983. Yet another son, Hiram Bingham IV, was a diplomat who saved over 2500 Jews from the clutches of the Nazis in France. These included the painter Marc Chagall (with whom he maintained a lifelong friendship), political theorist Hannah Arendt, and novelist and playwright Lion Feuchtwanger.