Due to a special event, on Wednesday, July 8, there will be no tours of the U.S. Capitol after 11 a.m. Emancipation Hall and Exhibition Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center will be unavailable all day. While reservations prior to 11 a.m. will be honored, same-day passes will not be available. The Capitol Visitor Center will close at noon except for individuals on official business and those going to the House and Senate Galleries.

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.

History of Congress and the Capitol

The Capitol 1851-1877

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Preliminary Design for a New Dome...
Image Caption

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.

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.

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