The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., is a symbol of the American people and our government and the meeting place of the nation’s legislature, the U.S. Congress. The Capitol is a working office building, but it is also the place where visitors from around the United States and the world come to learn about American democracy.

Construction of the Capitol began in 1793. In November 1800, Congress, along with the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court, moved into the newly completed north wing. The south wing was completed by 1807, but in 1814, the British burned the Capitol during the War of 1812. What is now the center portion of the Capitol was completed in 1826. This iconic building achieved its current form through the work of German-American architects Thomas U. Walter and August G. Schönborn who immigrated from Suhl, Thuringia to the United States drawn by the promise of work.

Schönborn came to the US in 1849, and arrived in Washington, DC in 1851, where he began working as a draftsman under Thomas U. Walter. He created the impressive dome using only a small scale mode and rough drawings, which greatly impressed Walter who had not known that Schönborn was a trained architect.  President Millard Fillmore was also highly impressed with his work, and often visited him in the architectural offices at the Capitol. His other big contribution to the Capitol was an iron library after a fire on Christmas Eve 1851 destroyed the original Capitol library.

The interior of the Capitol was also shaped by German-American artists, especially the fresco artist Urban Geier. Geier arrived in the U.S. in 1853, and was soon hired by the great Italian fresco artist Constantino Brumidi. His work can be admired in the Lyndon B. Johnson Room. Even long after Brumidi’s death in 1880, Geier worked for the Architect of the Capitol until 1890s when he was past 70 years old. He served alongside some of the most talented German – and Italian – artists of his time to make America’s national legislature the architectural jewel that it is today.

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