Washington, D.C. has been the nation’s capital since 1800, following its earlier location in Philadelphia. Everyone around the world knows it as the world’s most politically powerful city, as it’s the home of U.S. lawmakers. Here are 12 facts about the city that you might not have read before.
1. Talk about statehood
In recent years public debates have emerged calling for Washington, D.C. to become the 51st state. A popular argument for statehood is that the city’s population of over 700,000 is larger than the entire populations of Wyoming or Vermont. The city already is represented in the Electoral College with 3 electoral votes. Although the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in June 2020 to adopt statehood, it isn’t expected to pass in the Senate.
2. The constitution prohibits statehood for the nation’s capital
An argument against statehood for Washington, D.C. is that it would be unconstitutional. Article 1, Section 8 requires the nation’s capital to be a federal district overseen by Congress. The district was formed from land given up by Virginia and Maryland. Besides Washington, D.C., the district also includes the cities of Georgetown and Alexandria. Ironically, Washington was the only president who never lived in the district.
3. How the district got its name
The capital is obviously named after George Washington, but why is District of Columbia added? It was partly to honor Christopher Columbus and partly because Columbia had become America’s nickname during the Revolutionary War. As the first president in 1791, George Washington selected the 100 square miles of land that would become the nation’s capital.
4. Wilson is the only president buried in D.C.
Woodrow Wilson, the president who served during World War I, is the nation’s only chief executive to be buried in Washington, D.C. He died in 1924, three years after leaving office. Two other presidents – William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy – were buried in Arlington, Virginia which is a 15-minute drive from the capital. George Washington was buried at Mount Vernon, Virginia, about 30-minutes away.
5. Wide diversity in languages
Washington, D.C. is a diverse melting pot of many cultures from around the world. It’s a community that speaks at least 168 languages, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Over 175 embassies operate in the city, making it a unique international destination for travelers. Even more languages, though, are spoken in New York City and Los Angeles.
6. Voting rights for D.C. residents began in 1961
After over a century and a half as the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. residents finally were allowed to vote in presidential elections after the 23rd Amendment passed in 1961. The new law also established the district’s 3 electoral votes. So 1964 was the first presidential election in which D.C. residents participated.
7. Washington Monument was once the world’s tallest structure
At the time the Washington Monument was completed in 1884, it was the tallest structure on earth at just over 555 feet. This height was surpassed by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, which stood at 984 feet when it was completed in 1889. Today the honor goes to the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, United Arab Emirates at 2,722 feet. Construction on the Washington Monument originally began in 1848, but the project was delayed in 1854 for over two decades due to funding problems. Ironically, Washington had been the wealthiest president for most of U.S. history.
8. Home of the world’s largest library
Another one of the city’s popular tourist attractions is the world’s largest library, which is the Library of Congress. It’s a massive collection on copyright documentation of over 170 million items. The library keeps files of various creators, such as authors, screenplay writers and songwriters. A vast majority of the works are made by unknown independent creators.
9. The Capitol was designed by a Scottish doctor
The original design of the U.S. Capitol building was by a Scottish doctor named William Thornton. His submission was favored by both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who teamed up to conduct a design contest with a prize of $500. Neither Washington nor Jefferson liked the 17 entries, so they chose Thornton’s design even though it missed the deadline. The original building burned down by the British in the War of 1812 but was restored by 1819.
10. Bronze statue on top of the Capitol
At the top of the U.S. Capitol building is a bronze statue known as the Statue of Freedom. It’s hard to tell from a distance, but the statue of the woman is 19 feet tall and weighs 15,000 pounds.
11. Watergate is still in business
The infamous Watergate hotel and office complex, which led to the resignation of President Nixon, still exists after ownership has changed hands a few times since the 1970s. The complex was the site of the 1972 burglary into the Democratic headquarters that became one of the city’s biggest scandals in history. The complex was last purchased in 2017 for $135 million by the Washington Real Estate Investment Trust (WashREIT).
12. Deep media history
While most people realize the White House and Congress get endless media coverage for writing so much history, sometimes people forget the role the city has played in the evolution of mass media. Presidents often get to test out new technology before the broader population does. The earliest president to be photographed was John Quincy Adams, but not until 1843, which was years after he left office. The first presidential voice to be recorded was Benjamin Harrison in the 1880s while William McKinley became the first president caught on motion picture film a decade later. Presidents have helped usher in new media technology such as radio and television.