14 Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About the Pentagon
The Pentagon is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. Learn how it got its unique shape and other incredible details about this storied structure.
home office of the brave
The Pentagon serves as the headquarters of the Department of Defense, which oversees all branches of the U.S. military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. The DOD’s mission is “to provide a lethal Joint Force to defend the security of our country and sustain American influence abroad.”
The origin story
The Department of Defense was originally called the War Department, and in 1941, it had 24,000 employees spread out across 17 buildings in Washington, D.C. As Hitler’s army marched through Europe, Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt the need to consolidate command of America’s armed forces in a single headquarters. The result? The Pentagon. While the plan for the Pentagon was fairly transparent, here are 10 secrets operations the U.S. government didn’t want anyone to know.
It’s quite big
The Pentagon contains more than 6.6 million square feet of floor space, making it one of the largest buildings in the world. To put that into perspective, it has three times the floor space of the Empire State Building.
And it needs the space
According to the official Pentagon tours website, 26,000 employees, both military and civilian, work there, which is why it needs 16 parking lots to handle 8,770 commuter cars. In addition, more than 106,000 tourists visit the Pentagon every year.
A lay-down of the layout
The Pentagon is five stories tall (with two basement levels) and is made up of five internal rings, intersected by 10 corridors. From the center out, these rings are named “A” through “E” (with “F” and “G” in the basement). There are 131 stairways, 19 escalators, and 70 elevators needed to navigate all of the floors.
Walking through it is like a marathon
The total walking distance of the building is about 17.5 miles, but if you speed-walk through the center courtyard, you can move between the building’s furthest points in under ten minutes. The DOD also provides workers with motorized scooters that cruise along at three miles per hour. Check out these words and phrases that originated in the military.
Why is it a pentagon?
The Pentagon is shaped like it is because head architect G. Edwin Bergstrom was required to fit the building in between existing roads at the original site, and a five-sided, asymmetrical design was the only way to do that. The building also needed to remain relatively low due to the scarcity of steel caused by World War II and to prevent it from blocking the views of Washington, D.C. After protests erupted about its proximity to Arlington National Cemetery, the construction site was moved to its current location, but Bergstrom stuck with the five-sided shape to prevent delaying construction.
It went up fast
The Pentagon was built at a mindboggling speed. The building was officially opened on January 14, 1943, having broken ground less than two years prior. Don’t miss these 18 facts you never knew about Washington, D.C.
Its employees are well-fed
All that walking around can get a person hungry. Luckily, there are a number of food options at the Pentagon, including five different food courts that have outposts of almost every fast food restaurant you can think of: Baskin Robbins, Subway, KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Popeyes—and of course, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks to keep everyone well caffeinated.
It’s home to…the world’s most dangerous hotdog stand?
At the center of the Pentagon is a five-acre park that houses a now-closed hot dog stand. “Rumor has it that during the Cold War, the Russians never had any less than two missiles aimed at this hot dog stand,” DOD Communications Officer Brett Eaton told the Stars and Stripes in 2010. “They thought this was the Pentagon’s most top-secret meeting room, and the entire Pentagon was a large fortress built around this hot dog stand. They thought the officers were going to get their top-secret briefings in a protected area, but really they were just going to get lunch.” Don’t miss these hilarious code names the military actually used.
No, it can’t fly
On October 21, 1967, 35,000 Vietnam War protestors marched to the Pentagon, with their announced intention of surrounding the building and levitating it. They were unable to get the building off the ground, as you might imagine.
It has seen domestic terrorism
In May 1972, Weather Underground, a radical group that carried out domestic bombings as a form of protest, placed a bomb in a women’s restroom at the Pentagon. The bomb’s explosion resulted in some structural damage to the building, but no one was harmed. Here are 12 government conspiracy theories that turned out to be true.
Its connection to September 11
Construction began on September 11, 1941—exactly 60 years before the 9/11 terrorist attacks that sent American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon. The plane’s impact smashed through the first floor of three of the Pentagon’s rings and caused a fire that took 36 hours to extinguish. The lives of 184 people were lost at the Pentagon on that awful day, including 120 Pentagon employees.
How it remembers 9/11
On September 11, 2008, a 9/11 memorial was opened to the public at the Pentagon. It includes 184 illuminated benches, one for each of the Pentagon employees, flight passengers, and crew members who lost their lives. The Pentagon also has the Hall of Heroes, a room dedicated to recipients of the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor in action that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.
Next, be sure to read the 45 things people in the military wish you knew.