Who designed our nation’s Capitol building? A contest that paid $500 was held by the U.S. government when it was looking for architects and laymen to design a new home for Congress. Unfortunately, none of the designs was up to snuff. But a late entry by an amateur, William Thornton, had potential. After a team of designers heavily tweaked it, the U.S. Capitol was built — mostly by the labor of free and enslaved African Americans. George Washington laid the cornerstone, and the building was completed in 1826.
What’s special about the Capitol: The design was inspired by a variety of commanding buildings in Europe, notably the Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and the Louvre in Paris.
Here’s a fascinating fact: The 365 steps on the front of the U.S. Capitol Building go from the basement to the top of the dome.
Today: The Capitol covers a ground area of 175,170 square feet, or about 4 acres, and has a floor area of approximately 16-1/2 acres. Its length, from north to south, is 751 feet 4 inches; its greatest width, including approaches, is 350 feet. Its height above the base line on the east front to the top of the Statue of Freedom is 288 feet; from the basement floor to the top of the dome is an ascent of 365 steps. The building contains approximately 540 rooms and has 658 windows (108 in the dome alone) and approximately 850 doorways.