Mental Floss

25 Things You Should Know About Washington, D.C.

Emily Becker
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Named for George Washington and Christopher Columbus, Washington, D.C. was never supposed to be a city. The founders envisioned the area as a place where people worked, not where people lived. Learn more about the metropolis of 658,000 people.

1. Washington, D.C. was established by the Constitution to serve as the capital. Its location was a compromise between Alexander Hamilton’s desire for the federal government to assume Revolutionary War debts and Thomas Jefferson, who wanted the capital to be in a place that was friendly to slave-holding interests.

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 The District’s effort to become its own state gained momentum in 1980 when voters approved their own constitution. Under the district’s plan, the 51st state would be called New Columbia. That initiative, of course, didn't exactly pan out.  3. The District of Columbia does not have a full voting member of Congress. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the current representative of D.C., can vote in committee or in procedural matters but cannot vote on the floor. 4. Because of this, drivers with cars registered in the District can get license plates printed with the slogan “taxation without representation.” Noted supporters of the politically-charged plates include President Barack Obama who equipped all the presidential limousines with the declaration. [[{"fid":"167641","view_mode":"width-constrained-728","type":"media","fields":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""},"field_deltas":{"":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""}},"link_text":false,"attributes":{"alt":null,"class":"media-element file-width-constrained-728","data-delta":null}}]]  

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Residents of the area could not vote in the presidential election until 1963, when Congress ratified the 23rd Amendment. For the 2016 election, the district has been delegated three electoral votes. 6. Residents of Washington, D.C. drink more wine per capita per day—three ounces per person—than any other state in the country, according to a study by the Washington Post. 7. When the Washington Monument was completed in 1884, it was the tallest building in the world. The obelisk was built with stone from three different quarries in Maryland, each with a slightly different tint. The three colors are distinguishable today. [[{"fid":"167645","view_mode":"width-constrained-728","type":"media","fields":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""},"field_deltas":{"":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""}},"link_text":false,"attributes":{"alt":null,"class":"media-element file-width-constrained-728","data-delta":null}}]] 



Anyone can submit a public tour request of the White House through the individual’s member of Congress. The self-guided tours are available on Tuesdays, Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays, but requests must be filed at least 21 days in advance.

9. John Quincy Adams, the 6th U.S. president, was fond of nude, early morning swims in the Potomac River. (We don't recommend trying that today.)


The Capitol building was designed by a Scottish physician who submitted the plans late to a design competition organized by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The two leaders promised $500 and a city lot to the architect who drew the winning design.

11. The large circular area of the first floor of the Capitol is called “the Crypt,” as the remains of George and Martha Washington were intended to be housed directly beneath the area. However, Washington specified in his will that he wished to be buried at his home, Mount Vernon.

12. Deep in the basement of the Capitol are two marble bathtubs originally installed during the expansion of the Capitol in 1860. The subject of a 2012 episode of podcast 99 Percent Invisible, the bathtubs served as a place where lawmakers, who could allegedly be banished from the chamber for being too smelly, could wash up during a swampy D.C. summer.

13. In addition to bathtubs and personal elevators, one of the perks of serving in Congress is access to the Capitol Subway System, a semi-secret metro line that allows Congressmen and staff members to travel between the office buildings and the Capitol without going outside.

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K Street

is legendary for being the home to lobbyists in the Capital. In 2015, there were 10,616 registered lobbyists in the city, which is approximately 19.8 lobbyists for every member of Congress. 15. Every funeral at Arlington National Cemetery is attended by one of the Arlington Ladies, a group of volunteers who ensure that no soldier is buried alone.  16. The Library of Congress receives 15,000 items each working day that are kept on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves, making the library the largest in the world. 17. Washington receives an average 39 inches of rainfall per year. (That's more than Seattle.) 18. When D.C.'s Union Station first opened in 1907, it was about as full-service as a transportation hub gets. The complex even boasted its own mortuary. 19. Today, Union Station serves as Amtrak's headquarters, and helps approximately 40 million passengers get where they're going every year.   20. Visiting the National Cathedral? Take a close look at the grotesques on the building's northwest tower. The creepy helmeted head you see staring down at you is none other than Darth Vader. [[{"fid":"167649","view_mode":"width-constrained-728","type":"media","fields":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""},"field_deltas":{"":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""}},"link_text":false,"attributes":{"alt":null,"class":"media-element file-width-constrained-728","data-delta":null}}]] 

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The Watergate Hotel was controversial years before it would become embroiled in scandal. Opponents blasted architect Luigi Moretti's modern design, which they felt looked vulgar among the rest of the city's neoclassical structures. One critic described its look as being "as appropriate as a strip dancer performing at your grandmother's funeral."  22. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is the second most-visited museum in the world, right after the Louvre. More than 8 million visitors pass through its doors each year. 23. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the newest on the Mall and the first to honor an African American, was slammed for misquoting the civil rights activist when it was first unveiled in 2011. Carved into one of its sides was a paraphrased version of a quote he uttered during a 1968 sermon: "I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness." (The original quote: "Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.") The words were removed from the monument after critics, most notably Maya Angelou, voiced their disapproval, explaining that the condensed quote made Dr. King seem arrogant.  24. Almost all of the famous museums and attractions in D.C. are free, including the 20 museums that comprise the Smithsonian Institution. 25. Every spring, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is held to celebrate the blooming of the gift of 3000 cherry tress from the mayor of Tokyo to the city of Washington, D.C. The gift was reciprocated with a gift of flowering dogwoods from the U.S. government to the people of Japan. [[{"fid":"167654","view_mode":"width-constrained-728","type":"media","fields":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""},"field_deltas":{"":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""}},"link_text":false,"attributes":{"alt":null,"class":"media-element file-width-constrained-728","data-delta":null}}]]