Hiss, Chambers, and the Cold War, 1948

In 1948, Americans watched anxiously as a dramatic espionage tale unfolded in the House of Representatives. Whittaker Chambers, a Time editor, confessed to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that he’d been a spy for the Soviet Union. Chambers accused a former State Department official, Alger Hiss, of being among his Communist contacts.

Hiss fiercely denied the charge. Representative Richard Nixon of California, suspecting that Hiss was lying, convinced Chambers to produce microfilm documents from Hiss—documents that Chambers had hidden on his farm in a hollowed-out pumpkin. Hiss sued for libel, but was convicted of perjury in 1950 and sent to prison. The Hiss–Chambers confrontation riveted the nation, triggering widespread espionage fears and spurring further congressional investigations.

History of Congress and the Capitol

The House 1945-Present

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Alger Hiss (first image) was...
Image Caption

Alger Hiss (first image) was elegant and slim, while Whittaker Chambers (second image) was rumpled and stout. Their appearances influenced the public's reaction to their testimony.

AP/Wide World Photos

Alger Hiss (first image) was elegant and slim, while Whittaker Chambers (second image) was rumpled and stout. Their appearances influenced the public's reaction to their testimony.

AP/Wide World Photos

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