Washington DC is a location that looms large not only in the US imagination, but the global one. This is the capital of one of the world’s greatest superpowers, and whether or not you’ve had the chance to get anywhere near it yourself, you probably have a few distinct images from it in your mind. When you think of Washington DC, you might see the White House, or the Lincoln Memorial (hop onboard one of our Washington DC Monuments and Memorials bus tours and you can hit all those icons in one day).
But with all that fame comes a wealth of stories and facts that are less well known. Read on for five things you probably didn’t know about this amazing city.
Washington DC Wasn’t Meant to Be the Capital
Washington DC, which sits on land taken from Virginia and Maryland, became the capital in 1790. But previously, Philadelphia had been the unofficial capital. So what happened?
Well, the switch came down to circumstance and compromise. First of all, there was distrust towards Pennsylvania after soldiers there had mutinied in 1783. Then there was the fact that two key Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, had different views about where the capital should be located – Hamilton argued for the North, while Jefferson wanted to appease slave-owners by putting it in the South. The final location was the result of a political trade-off between the two.
It was a compromise that no-one wanted at the start – but as you’ll agree when you visit Washington DC, it couldn’t have worked out better.
The White House Has Had Some Unlikely Residents
Barrack Obama’s photogenic dogs, Sunny and Bo, became internet-famous during his time in office, appearing in all kinds of official photo shoots with the First Family. But, as novel as these two curly-haired Portuguese water dogs might have been, the White House has seen some far more interesting animals move in over the centuries.
You might think an alligator in the White House would be the kind of thing that only ever happens once, but in reality, two different presidents, holding office around a century apart, kept these scaly charmers as pets: John Quincy Adams and Herbert Hoover.
Other notable creatures to have called the White House home include Andrew Jackson’s parrot (which could apparently swear up a storm), President Buren’s tiger cubs (which came as a set of two, a gift from the Sultan of Oman), and Thomas Jefferson’s bear cubs (again, a matching pair).
The Library of Congress Has Hundreds of Miles of Books
You likely already know that the Library of Congress is enormous, and you might also know that it’s the biggest library in the country and one of the biggest in the world. But what you might not know – unless you’ve already been – is exactly what that looks like, and exactly how many books we’re talking about here.
In fact, the library contains so many bookshelves that, added up, they would stretch across well over 800 miles. Basically, if you’re looking for almost any book, chances are that you’re going to find it here.
So find yourself a quiet spot (unsurprisingly, there are plenty) and treat yourself to some quality reading time.
Some of DC’s Top Sights Weren’t Built by Americans
The US has long presented itself as a place where every person can hope to build something special for themselves, no matter their background. Setting up a life in the US might be harder now than it was in the 19th century when European immigrants flocked here, but the nation is still seen of a beacon of hope for people the world over looking for better opportunities.
It’s fitting, then, that some of the best-known sights in the country’s capital were built by people who weren’t born in American. The White House was the work of James Hoban, an Irish architect, while the Capitol building’s design came from the brain of William Thornton, born in the British colony of the West Indies. For multi-talented Thornton, architecture was just one of many interests; he also practiced medicine, painted, created new inventions and became involved in the anti-slavery movement.
Darth Vader Hangs Out at the Washington National Cathedral
The Washington National Cathedral is a remarkable place to visit, and whether or not you’ve got an eye for architecture, it’s hard not to be seduced by its grand staircase and the endearingly odd gargoyles on the exterior. Look closely at one of them, though, and you’ll see this isn’t a gargoyle at all – but a notorious villain from an iconic George Lucas movie franchise.
Discover the well-known and not so well-known stories behind Washington DC with one of our Washington DC Tours.