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The U.s. Capitol

It was here on March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson became the first president inaugurated in the new capital city.

The dome is cast iron and painted to appear to be made of the same stone as the building and weighs 9.1 million pounds.

The US Capitol is visited by 3 to 5 million people per year.

The United States Capitol, sits atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The US Capitol is the seat of the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the U.S. Federal Government.

The Capitol building was sited by George Washington and his architect, Pierre L’Enfant in 1791 on the tallest hill in the area because they envisioned that hill as a “pedestal waiting for a monument to democracy”, the United States Congress.

The enormous, elegant building we see today rising from the National Mall is very different from the original building erected in the late 1700’s and occupied by Congress in November of 1800.  However, that original, small building is now a part of today’s US Capitol complex.

George Washington did not know what design to use for the home of the US Congress, so he and Thomas Jefferson turned to democracy for the answer! They called for a national contest for ideas from the American people. Sketches arrived from all over the colonies and eventually Washington selected an aspirational idea – a watercolor of a domed building with two equal wings – by Dr. William Thornton, a medical doctor, who was originally from England and the West Indies.

The US Capitol building we see today is still domed and still on its original site, but it has been expanded dramatically as our representational democracy has grown from the 17 Senators and 106 Representatives who originally moved into the just-completed Capitol in 1800 to 100 Senators and 435 Representatives who cast votes at the Capitol today.
In 1800 when the US government moved to Washington DC, the US Capitol was one small building housing the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Library of Congress. It hardly resembled Dr. Thornton’s ambitious watercolor! Eventually, the US Capitol building was built, expanded, rebuilt, burned, repaired, and expanded many more times. Running water, gas lights, a heating system, electricity, telegraph, magnificent landscaping, and parking were added along the way.

Today Senators and Representatives work with their staffs in offices in the nearby House and Senate Office Buildings flanking the Capitol building and only cast their votes on pending legislation in the US Capitol building itself. The Capitol Visitors Center with entrance on the lower level, the east side was opened in 2008 to welcome visitors to the US Capitol Complex.

Presently the Capitol building, including the Capitol Visitors Center is closed.

Washington DC Mall Map Near the US Capitol