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The US Capitol

Architectural Symbol of Democratic Ideals

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For almost two centuries, America's governing bodies, the Senate and the House of Representatives, have gathered under the dome of the US Capitol.
US Capitol in Washington, DC

US Capitol in Washington, DC

Photo © Jeff Hunter / Getty Images

The U.S. Capitol Building
Built:
1793-1829 and 1851-1863
Style: Neoclassical
Architects:
• William Thornton
• Benjamin Henry Latrobe
• Charles Bulfinch
Dome: Thomas Ustick Walter

Learn About the US Capitol Building

When French engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant planned the new city of Washington, he was expected to design the Capitol. But L'Enfant refused to submit plans and would not yield the authority of the Commissioners. L'Enfant was dismissed and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson proposed a public competition.

Most of the designers who entered the competition and submitted plans for the U.S. Capitol were inspired by Renaissance ideas. However, three entries were modeled after ancient classical buildings. Thomas Jefferson favored the classical plans, and suggested that the Capitol should resemble the Roman Pantheon with a circular domed rotunda.

Burned by British troops in 1814, the Capitol went through several major renovations. Like many buildings constructed during the founding of Washington DC, most of the labor was done by African Americans - some paid, and some slaves.

The most famous feature of the US Capitol, the cast-iron Neoclassical dome by Thomas Ustick Walter, was not added until the mid-1800s. The original dome by Charles Bulfinch was smaller and made of wood and copper.

Pictures of the US Capitol Building

  • See historic illustrations and plans for the proposed Capitol Building in the Library of Congress collection of Early Architectural Drawings.

More About the U.S. Capitol

The U.S. Capitol Grounds
Over 100 varieties of trees and bushes are planted on 58.8 acres around the Capitol.

The Competition for the Capitol's Design
From the Library of Congress, illustrations, plans and documents from the proposals submitted for the United States Capitol building.

The Architect of the Capitol
The Architect of the Capitol is responsible to the United States Congress for the maintenance, operation, development, and preservation of the United States Capitol Complex. The Web site for the Architect's office has extensive information about the history and architecture of the Capitol building.

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