18 Wacky Facts You Never Knew About Washington, D.C.
From monumental mishaps (literally) to unusual voting laws, our nation’s capital has a strange history.
The district is only partly named for the first president
In 1791, George Washington chose 100 square miles of land, formerly of Maryland and Virginia, to be the final site for our nation’s capital. This entire district was named Columbia—a patriotic nickname for America that honored Christopher Columbus—and the new federal city added to the territory was called Washington, for good ol’ George. Georgetown and Alexandria were also cities included in the district.
George Washington never lived there
Turns out there are many George Washington facts you never learned in school. John Adams was the first president to live in Washington, D.C. Washington died before the White House was finished, though he did lay its cornerstone on October 13, 1792.
Only one president is buried in DC
This presidential trivia is actually true—and that president is Woodrow Wilson. His body has been in the Washington National Cathedral since his death in 1924.
There’s a crypt under the U.S. Capitol
George Washington was supposed to be buried in it, but he wanted to be laid to rest at Mount Vernon instead. So now the U.S. Capitol is home to an empty crypt. Creepy.
D.C. residents are a diverse bunch
Of the 672,000 people who live in D.C., 15 percent speak a language other than English. (They probably mastered this secret to learning a new language.) The city also houses more than 175 embassies and international cultural centers.
If you live in D.C., your voting rights are fairly new
Before 1961, residents of Washington, D.C. couldn’t vote in presidential elections because of the Electoral College. (Don’t know what that is? We answered 15 political questions you’ve been too embarrassed to ask.) The number of electoral votes each state gets depends on how many senators and members of the House of Representatives it has. Since D.C. isn’t a state, it has no representatives in Congress, so for years D.C. couldn’t take part in elections. The 23rd Amendment to the Constitution (passed in 1961) let D.C. have the number of electoral votes it would have if it were a state, but no more than the number of electors the least-populated state has. Currently, Wyoming is the least-populated state with three electors. So D.C. gets a max of three electoral votes.
Jefferson and Jackson have unique statues
The original statue in the Thomas Jefferson Memorial was made of plaster, because metal was rationed during WWII. It was later replaced with the 19-foot bronze statue seen today. There’s a statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square directly across from White House—and it’s partially made of British canons used in the War of 1812.
Only one memorial on the National Mall is dedicated to World War I
That is the DC War Memorial, which honors locals from Washington, D.C. who fought in that war.
The Washington Monument used to be the tallest structure in the world
At 555 feet and 5 1/8 inches tall, the memorial held this title for five years after it was completed in 1884. Then the Eiffel Tower came looming in at 984 feet. (Don’t get alarmed, but the Washington Monument reportedly does sway .125th of an inch when the wind blows at least 30 miles per hour.)