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On Competition:
The Problem of John Kutts's Best
Bryan E. Norwood
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On April 11, 1834, Representative Elisha Whittlesey of Ohio presented a petition on behalf of the architect John Kutts to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee of Claims.1 Kutts, an architect from Boston, alleged that a plan and estimate he had submitted to a competition for the United States Custom House in New York had been destroyed in a Federal Treasury Building fire in March 1833. The petition requested remuneration for Kutts’s unreturned and presumably destroyed documents in the amount of the premium promised to the competition winner: $300. The committee responded to the request: “Before the petitioner is entitled to any compensation, he should prove his plan and estimate was the best, and that it would have been taken, had it not been destroyed.”2 Needless to say, verification that a now nonexistent design would have won a competition was difficult enough, much less showing that it was “the best.” Kutts, unsurprisingly, did not receive payment for his work.

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Comm. of Claims, Report: Petition of John Kutts, H.R. Rep. No. 405 (1834).