After two years, the U.S. Capitol, or more specifically, its dome, is finally emerging from a scaffolding cocoon. The photo at right, taken in March 2016, captures the partially revealed dome of the Library of Congress’ neighbor across the street. The restoration work started in spring 2014 included new paint, and repairing and replacing damaged, rusted or missing pieces of the ornate ironwork which makes up the dome. During that time, the iconic structure has been covered up while dozens of workers returned it to its full glory.
Witnessing the methodical unveiling of a freshly painted and repaired dome inspired me to look through our collections for other views of the Capitol under construction or being renovated.
While maintenance is a continual affair for the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) staff at the sprawling Capitol building, sometimes more intense attention is required, as seen in the 1960 photo (below left) of a column being hoisted into position. Also, on a memorable day in 1993, the Statue of Freedom was airlifted from the dome to be restored at ground level instead of nearly 300 feet in the air atop her normal perch. (Photo, below right.)
Giving the dome a fresh coat of paint in the 1920s clearly required nerves of steel and no fear of heights!
The interior of any building as old as the Capitol needs attention as well. Here we have the 1857 tile floors being replaced in 1924 with marble.
And naturally, the press are a part of the life of the Capitol, and here the press gallery gets refreshed while Congress is out of session in September 1937. (Note the technology used to share fast breaking legislative news – the telegraph!)
The dome that has recently received so much attention is actually the second dome to grace the U.S. Capitol. When new wings were added to the building in the 1850s and 1860s, the towering cast iron dome replaced the original, smaller copper and wood dome. The photo at right, taken during the U.S. Civil War, offers a view of one of the new wings and the nearly complete dome rising in the background.
- Explore early images dating from the 1850s to the 1870s related to the U.S. Capitol, including views of the dome under construction.
- See photos of early 20th century repairs to the U.S. Capitol in the Washington, D.C.-based photographer Theodor Horydczak Collection.
- Explore the history of the U.S. Capitol in a Library of Congress online exhibition: Temple of Liberty: Building a Capitol for the New Nation.
- Learn more about the current restoration work by the Architect of the Capitol staff, which is now focused on the interior of the dome.
- Read two fascinating posts from Inside Adams, the blog of the Library of Congress Science, Technology & Business Division: The Capitol Dome: Janes, Fowler, & Kirtland Co. and Expanding the Capitol’s Dome.