Around the Capitol
A Tour of the Capitol
You don’t need to travel to Washington, D.C. to see where the House of Representatives meets—you can get a tour of the Capitol right from your chair.
The U.S. Congress—made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate—has met in Washington, D.C. since 1800. Congress met in eight different cities—New York City; Trenton, New Jersey; Annapolis, Maryland; Princeton, New Jersey; York, Pennsylvania; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—before the two branches decided they needed a permanent place to meet. In 1790, they asked President George Washington to choose the location for the Nation’s capital city.
In 1791, George Washington chose the 10 square miles offered by Maryland to become the capital. We now know this area as Washington, D.C. Construction on the Capitol building began in 1793, and Congress officially moved from Philadelphia in 1800.
When Congress first moved to the Capitol, the House of Representatives met in the room we now call Statuary Hall. But when the current House Chamber was completed in 1857, the House of Representatives began meeting in this new space, and Statuary Hall was left empty.
In April of 1864, Vermont Representative Justin S. Morrill recommended that the Hall be used to display a collection of statues. The House of Representatives decided that the collection should include two statues from each state and that the statues should portray civic or military heroes from the state. This collection of statues was named the National Statuary Hall Collection.
By 1933, the National Statuary Hall Collection contained 65 statues and was getting too big for Statuary Hall. Congress decided the collection needed more space, so some statues were moved to the hallways of the Capitol.
The Collection now contains 100 statues, two from each state. Forty-eight of the statues reside in Statuary Hall, while the rest are on display throughout the Capitol hallways and the new Capitol Visitor Center.
The Rotunda is the center of the Capitol. The circular room is 96 feet in diameter and 180 feet high. It connects the two sides of the Capitol—the House wing and the Senate wing. The walls of the room are decorated with artwork showing important moments in American history, including the landing of Columbus and the Wright Brother’s first flight.
One of the most famous works of art in the Rotunda is The Apotheosis of Washington, which was painted on the ceiling by Constantino Brumidi in 1865. The painting shows George Washington rising into the heavens with two women—one representing Liberty and the other representing Victory—by his side. Surrounding them is a circle of 13 women, each representing one of the 13 original colonies. Six groups of people appear around the circle, representing war, science, marine, commerce, mechanics, and agriculture. Thousands of people on tours of the Capitol see Brumidi’s painting each day.
The Rotunda also serves as a meeting space for special events and ceremonies. Recipients of Congressional Gold Medals, such as Constantino Brumidi himself, receive their awards in ceremonies held in the Rotunda. Also, distinguished citizens, such as Rosa Parks, are honored in the Rotunda after they die.
The House Chamber
Members of the House of Representatives have met in the current House Chamber since 1857. The focal point of the room is the rostrum, where the Speaker sits. The rostrum was originally made of marble, but was replaced in the early 1950s by a wood-paneled design with carvings of laurel branches. The rest of the Members sit in seats facing the Speaker, similar to how you sit in the classroom facing your teacher. There are no assigned seats in the House Chamber. When a Member wants to address the Speaker or other Members, he or she will speak at one of the podiums around the Chamber, or from the well—the area directly in front of the rostrum.
When Members gather to vote on bills, they meet here in the House Chamber. This is also where the President gives his annual State of the Union Address.