A Brief History of D.C.
D.C. Today
Population: 572,059, 5.4 million for the entire metro area

Median age: 34.6

Racial make-up: 30.8% White, 60.0% Black or African American, 0.3% American Indian or Alaska native, 2.7% Asian, 0.1% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, 3.8% some other race, and 2.4% two or more races

Median household income: $40,127

Major Industries: Federal government, Tourism, Trade associations

Source: 2000 Census and Official Tourism site of D.C.

In the early 1600s, settler Captain John Smith arrived in the area that would eventually become our nation's capital. After pushing out the Native Americans who originally lived in the area, colonists subsequently used the land for farming, until the site was selected for political purpose. At that point, President Washington commissioned French architect Pierre L'Enfant, one of his staff officers at Valley Forge, to design the new city. But, not so long after construction began, L'Enfant was fired and replaced by city surveyor Andrew Ellicott and mathematician Benjamin Banneker. Parts of L'Enfant's vision for the layout of the city can still be seen today, including the Washington Monument.

D.C. Timeline - Beginnings

  • 1800: Congress and the rest of the federal government move to D.C. President John Adams moves into the unfinished White House (then called the Presidential Mansion).
  • 1812-1816: The War of 1812 takes its toll on D.C. English troops burn the Capitol, White House, and other federal buildings.
  • 1846: The city of Alexandria and Alexandria County (now Arlington County) are ceded back to Virginia. The Smithsonian museum is chartered by Congress.
  • 1848-50: The 184.5 mile Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O;) Canal is completed between Georgetown and Cumberland, Maryland. The Canal operates from 1828 to 1924 as a transportation route, primarily hauling coal.
  • 1861-65: Although the Civil War takes its toll on D.C., the District's population doubles from 60,000 to over 120,000. Slavery is abolished in D.C. in 1862. President Lincoln is shot and killed five days after General Lee's surrender in April of 1865.
  • 1871-74: The Territorial form of government in D.C. is established.
  • 1878: The Commission form of government is reestablished (whereby three commissioners are appointed by the President, and responsible to Congress).
  • 1888: The Washington Monument opens to the public.


Photo courtesy The Architect of the Capitol
A west-front-view of the Capitol. The United States Capitol Complex is comprised of the Capitol, the House and Senate Office Buildings, the U.S. Botanic Garden, the Capitol Grounds, the Library of Congress buildings, the Supreme Court Building, the Capitol Power Plant, and various support facilities.

D.C. Timeline - 1900's to today

  • 1912: Japan sends a gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees to D.C. as a token of friendship. Hundreds of thousands of visitors and area residents have been flocking to D.C. each year to witness the blooming of the cherry trees ever since.
  • 1914: The Lincoln Memorial is completed.
  • 1932: The population in D.C. rises sharply with the coming of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal and the growth of federal agencies.
  • 1943: The Jefferson Memorial is completed.
  • 1963: Civil rights march converges on Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King gives his famous "I Have A Dream" speech.
  • 1970: Washingtonians are given the right to elect a representative to Congress.
  • 1980s: Rapid growth of downtown D.C. takes place. Ridership on the subway system swells.
  • 1992: The House of Representatives approves statehood for D.C., but the Senate rejects it.
  • 2001: Terrorist attack destroys part of the Pentagon.

Photo courtesy National Park Service
Cherry blossoms in peak bloom

The government in Washington, D.C. is both unique and complex. It functions simultaneously as a city and a state. Let's take a look at how that works.