US CAPITOL TOURS
The United States Capitol Building is both a historic monument and a bustling government workplace. Over 200 years after it was first constructed, both bodies of the national legislative branch continue to work in the Capitol chambers. The Senate meets in the north wing and the House of Representatives convenes in the South wing. But despite being a hub for national politics, the Capitol is also a place for the public to enjoy via a US Capitol Tour. Every year, the Capitol is visited by millions of people from around the world. The history, neoclassical architecture, priceless American art, and ongoing prominence in national politics makes the Capitol a required stop for anyone visiting DC.
Join us for a US Capitol tour during the day, or see the US Capitol at night with our new Moonlight Tour. Below, we’ve provided some of our favorite trivia to help you brush up on your US Capitol facts before booking your tour.
US Capitol Building History
In 1792, Thomas Jefferson announced a contest: $500 would go to whoever could design the best Capitol building. Initial designs were either unimpressive or wildly over budget. Eventually, William Thornton submitted a design that was both grand and financially feasible. His entry was chosen by both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. In 1793, President Washington laid the cornerstone of the new building and construction began.
To make sure government officials had somewhere to work, builders were forced to focus their attention on the North wing. It’s a good thing that they did. One little-known US Capitol fact is that the building wasn’t finished when Congress met in there for the first time in November 1800.
Construction still hadn’t been completed, fourteen years later, when invading British troops burned the structure in 1814. Thankfully, Capitol Architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe had used materials that were essentially fireproof – such as sheet iron, marble, sandstone, zinc and copper – while constructing the Capitol. Much of the exterior structure remained intact after the invasion. Latrobe was eventually fired, and was replaced by Charles Bulfinch. It was under Bulfinch’s guidance that the Capitol’s first dome, made of copper, was completed in 1826.
By 1850, Congress had outgrown the Capitol as new states (and new representatives) joined the nation. Philadelphia architect Thomas U. Walter was hired by President Millard Fillmore to handle the extension of the Capitol building. The additions doubled the size of the Capitol, and required a new dome to fit the new proportions. The dome was completed in 1863.
Since then, there have been multiple additions to the Capitol building. The most recent – and most ambitious – new construction was the Visitor’s Center, completed in 2008. Entirely underground and nearly 580,000 square feet, the latest project is ¾ the size of the Capitol itself.
The Capitol Today
Today, the Capitol is famous for housing not only Congress, but also thousands of pieces of American artwork and hundreds of years of American history. The building is divided into five levels, including the basement. US Capitol tours can explore historical sites such as the restored Old Supreme Court Chamber and the Old Senate Chamber. Interested in art? The murals of the Brumidi Corridors are a must-see. And for visitors interested in both our national history and art, the National Statuary Hall holds 38 statues from the famous National Statuary Hall Collection. The other 62 statues are distributed throughout the Capitol. Savvy visitors can keep track of how many they spot!
Join One of Our US Capitol Tours
At DC Tours, the US Capitol building is usually the first stop. Our riders are given plenty of time to disembark, explore the Capitol, take pictures, and learn US Capitol facts. Get a glimpse of legislative history being made or explore the National Statuary Hall Collection. Visit the US Capitol building during our daily bus tours, or see the US Capitol at night with our new Moonlight Tour. Contact us today to book your tour.
NOTE: As of 6/15/21, “The U.S. Capitol Building and Congressional Office Buildings remain closed to the public due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”