Due to a special event taking place in the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, September 18, there will be no tours of the U.S. Capitol that day until approximately noon. The Capitol Visitor Center will remain open during this time, and guided tours in the Capitol Visitor Center will be available.

Replacing the Dome

Fire destroyed much of the Library of Congress in 1851, highlighting the vulnerability of the rotunda’s wooden dome. The architect Thomas Walter designed a fireproof dome better suited to the growing building. On March 3, 1855, Congress authorized the cast-iron replacement. Workers removed the old dome and began installing the new one soon thereafter.

For years, the project’s supervising engineer purchased iron from various foundries—until the New York firm of Janes, Fowler, Kirtland & Company won the exclusive iron contract in 1860. When the Civil War broke out, the administration warned the company not to expect further payment. The firm proceeded nevertheless. This perseverance struck President Lincoln as a symbol that the Union, like the dome, would continue. Despite wartime conditions that drained manpower and materials, construction went ahead. Former slaves—including Philip Reid, who helped cast the Statue of Freedom that was placed atop the dome in December 1863—helped ease labor shortages.

  • Preliminary Design for a New Dome, by Thomas U. Walter, 1855

    Preliminary Design for a New Dome, by Thomas U. Walter, 1855

    Thomas Ustick Walter Collection, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia.

  • Dome construction, 1856

    Photography—a new art form at the time—documented construction of the dome. John Woods was hired in 1855 as the Capitol’s first full-time photographer.

    Architect of the Capitol

  • Freedom, by Thomas Crawford, 1857

    The last section of the dome’s crowning statue was put into place on December 2, 1863.

    Architect of the Capitol

  • Dome construction, 1858

    Dome construction, 1858

    Architect of the Capitol

  • Dome construction, 1862

    Dome construction, 1862

    Architect of the Capitol

  • Dome construction, 1863

    Dome construction, 1863

    Architect of the Capitol