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Washington, D.C. is the capital of the United States. It is coterminous with the District of Columbia (abbreviated as "D.C."). The city and the district are located on the banks of the Potomac River and bordered by the states of Virginia (to the west) and Maryland (to the north, east and south). The city was planned and developed in the late 18th century to serve as the permanent national capital; the federal district was formed to keep the national capital distinct from the states.

The city was named after George Washington, the first President of the United States. The district's name, "Columbia," is an early poetic name for the United States and a reference to Christopher Columbus, an early explorer of the Americas. The city is commonly referred to as Washington, The District, or simply D.C. In the 19th century, it was called the Federal City or Washington City.

The centers of all three branches of the U.S. government are in the District. Also situated in the city are the headquarters for the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other national and international institutions, including labor unions and professional associations. Washington is a frequent location for political demonstrations and protests, large and small, particularly on the National Mall. A center of American history and culture, Washington is a popular destination for tourists, the site of numerous national landmarks and monuments, the world's largest museum complex (the Smithsonian Institution), galleries, universities, cathedrals, performing arts centers and institutions, and native music scenes.

The District of Columbia and the city of Washington are governed by a single municipal government and for most practical purposes, are considered to be the same entity. This has not always been the case: until 1871, when Georgetown ceased to be a separate city, there were multiple jurisdictions within the District. Although there is a municipal government and a Mayor, Congress has the supreme authority over the city and district, which results in citizens having less self-governance than residents of the states. The District has a non-voting at-large Congressional representative. In the financial year 2004, federal tax collections were $16.9 billion while federal spending in the District was $37.6 billion.

The population of the District of Columbia is about 581,530. The Washington Metropolitan Area is the eighth-largest in the United States with more than five million residents, and the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area has a population exceeding eight million. If Washington, D.C., were a state, it would rank last in area (behind Rhode Island), second to last in population (ahead of Wyoming), first in population density, and 35th in gross state product.


The District of Columbia, founded on July 16, 1790, is a federal district as specified by the United States Constitution. The land forming the original District came from the state of Maryland and Commonwealth of Virginia. However, the area south of the Potomac River (39 square miles or about 100 km²) was returned, or "retrocede", to Virginia in 1847 and now is incorporated into Arlington County and the City of Alexandria. The remaining land that constitutes the District of Columbia is the territory originally ceded by Maryland.

The initial plan for the "Federal District" was a diamond, measuring 10 miles (16 km) on each side, totaling 100 square miles (259 km²). The actual site on the Potomac River was chosen by President Washington. Washington may have chosen the site for its natural scenery, believing that the Patowmack Canal would transform the Potomac into a great navigable waterway leading to the Ohio and the American interior. The city was officially named "Washington" on September 9, 1791. Out of modesty, George Washington never referred to it as such, preferring to call it "the Federal City". Despite choosing the site and living nearby at Mount Vernon, he rarely visited the city. The federal district was named the District of Columbia because Columbia was a poetic name for the United States used at the time, which was close to the 300th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the Americas in 1492.

As originally platted, the District of Columbia was carved out of two adjacent counties - one in Virginia, one in Maryland - and the portion from each state was organized as a separate county. Alexandria County was on the south bank of the Potomac and was retroceded to Virginia in the nineteenth century (where it later became the independent city of Alexandria and the County of Arlington). The County of Washington was on the north bank. In addition to the new City of Washington being constructed in the geographic and geometric center of the District, there were a number of other communities - including Georgetown (founded in 1751 and named for its co-founders and/or King George II), Tenley, and the village commonly known today as "Anacostia". In time, all of these communities were amalgamated to the City of Washington, which thus became coextensive with the District of Columbia so that a separate County of Washington was no longer needed, so it was abolished.

As constructed, Washington City was centered on its current area but ended at present-day Rock Creek Park on the west and Florida Avenue and Benning Road on the north. Florida Avenue was then called "Boundary Street".
In 1791–92, Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker surveyed the border of the District with both Maryland and Virginia, placing boundary stones at every mile point; many of these still stand.

The cornerstone of the White House, the first newly constructed building of the new capital, was laid on October 13, 1792. That was the day after the first celebrations of Columbus Day in the United States.

On August 24, 1814, British forces burned the capital during the most notable raid of the War of 1812 in retaliation for the sacking and burning of York (modern-day Toronto) during the winter months, which had left many Canadians homeless. President James Madison and U.S. forces fled before the British forces arrived and burned public buildings, including the Capitol and the Treasury building. The White House was burned and gutted. The Washington Navy Yard was also burned — by American sailors — to keep ships and stores from falling into the hands of the British. The home of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, located at the Marine Barracks, was one of the few government buildings not burned by the raiding British soldiers out of a sign of respect and is now the oldest public building in continuous use in the nation's capital. The Patent Office was also spared, as a result of the Superintendent of Patents pleading with British soldiers and contending that destroying the store of knowledge therein would be a disservice to mankind. Civilians were not directly targeted and, initially, the British had approached the city hoping to secure a truce. However, they were fired upon, triggering frustration and anger among the British, which ultimately led to the sacking of government buildings.
During the 1830s, the District was home to one of the largest slave trading operations in the country (see Alexandria, Virginia).

In 1846, the population of Alexandria County, who resented the loss of business with the competing port of Georgetown and feared greater impact if slavery were outlawed in the capital, voted in a referendum to ask Congress to retrocede Alexandria back to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Congress agreed to do so on July 9 of that year. The slave trade, though not slavery, in the capital was outlawed as part of the Compromise of 1850.

The enormous complex of defenses that protected Washington, D.C. in 1865 made that city one of the most heavily-defended locations in the world.
Main article: Washington, D.C. in the American Civil War

Washington remained a small city — the 1860 Census put the population at just over 75,000 people — until the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861. The significant expansion of the federal government to administer the war and its legacies such as veterans' pensions led to notable growth in the city's population, as did a large influx of freed slaves. By 1870, the District population had grown to nearly 132,000.

In July 1864, Confederate forces under General Jubal Anderson Early made a brief raid into Washington, culminating in the Battle of Fort Stevens. The Confederates were repelled, and Early eventually returned to the Shenandoah Valley. The fort is located near present day Walter Reed Army Medical Center in northwest Washington. This was the only battle where a U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln, was present and under fire while in office.

In the early 1870s, Washington was given a territorial government, but Governor Alexander Robey Shepherd's reputation for extravagance resulted in Congress abolishing his office in favor of direct rule. Congressional governance of the District would continue for a century.

Newspaper Row, Washington, D.C., 1874
Newspaper Row, Washington, D.C., 1874

In 1878, Congress passed an Organic Act that made the boundaries of the city of Washington coterminous with those of the District of Columbia. This effectively eliminated Washington County; Georgetown, technically made a part of the city, was allowed to remain nominally separate until 1895 when it was formally combined with Washington.

The Washington Monument, with construction stalled by other priorities, finally opened in 1888. Plans were laid to further develop the monumental aspects of the city, with work contributed by such noted figures as Frederick Law Olmsted and Daniel Burnham. However, development of the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial and other structures on the National Mall, and construction of Potomac Park did not begin until the early 20th century.

Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool, during the 1963 March on Washington
Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool, during the 1963 March on Washington

The many Depression relief agencies created by Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, followed by World War II, brought a great increase to the city's population. Roommates doubled up in scarce apartments and competed for space on buses and trolleys, as reported in David Brinkley's book. The District's population peaked in 1950, when the census for that year recorded a record population of 802,178 people. At the time, the city was the ninth-largest in the country, just ahead of Boston and close behind St. Louis. The population declined in the following decades, mirroring the suburban emigration from many of the nation's older urban centers following World War II and the racial integration of public schools.

The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on March 29, 1961, allowing residents of Washington, D.C. to vote for president and have their votes count in the Electoral College as long as Washington, D.C. does not have more electoral votes than the least populous state.

After the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, on April 4, 1968, riots broke out in some sections of the city. The violence raged for four days, and buildings were burned. At one point, the rioters came within two blocks of the White House. President Lyndon Johnson ordered over 13,000 federal troops to occupy the city — the largest occupation of an American city since the Civil War. It took years for the city to recover. One of the most important developments in bringing people back downtown was the building of the subway system. The first 4.6 miles (7.4 km) of the Washington Metro subway system opened on March 27, 1976. Today the system knits together Washington and its suburbs with a network of 86 stations and 106.3 miles (171.1 km) of track.

In 1973, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Self-Rule and Governmental Reorganization Act, providing for an elected mayor and council for the District. As a result, Walter Washington became the first elected mayor of the District in 1975. Marion Barry became mayor in 1979 and served three successive terms; however, after his arrest for drug use in an FBI sting operation on January 18, 1990, and his sentence to a six-month jail term, he did not seek re-election. His successor, Sharon Pratt Kelly, became the first black woman to lead a U.S. city of Washington's size and importance. Barry, however, ran again in 1994, defeating her in the Democratic primary and once again becoming mayor. During his fourth term, the city nearly became insolvent and was forced to give up some home rule to a congressionally-appointed financial control board. In 1998, Anthony A. Williams was elected the city's mayor and led the city into a fiscal recovery. In 2006, Adrian Fenty was elected mayor. Among Mayor Fenty's many promises are increased attention to every citizen of the city and a world class atmosphere in business and residence.
During the 1970s, many in the District referred to it as "Chocolate City" in reference to the city's Black majority and African-American culture. Popularized by two local disc jockeys, the nickname was also a reference to the 1975 album Chocolate City by Parliament-Funkadelic. While the nickname never caught on permanently, it was a reminder of the contributions to the city over the years by such icons as Duke Ellington, Chuck Brown, and other African-American performers. During his Correspondent's Dinner speech in 2006, Stephen Colbert referred to the city as "the Chocolate City with the marshmallow center".

Night view of The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and US Capitol, 2007
Night view of The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and US Capitol, 2007

On September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 77 a Boeing 757 was hijacked and deliberately crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37AM, just across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, causing a partial collapse of one side of the building. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah told American officials while under interrogation that the White House was the intended target,[15] while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh have said that the United States Capitol Building was the intended target[16] of the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93.

On September 29, 2004, Major League Baseball officially relocated the Montreal Expos to Washington for the 2005 season, despite opposition from Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos. The new team was christened the Washington Nationals. Controversy between the city council and MLB threatened to scuttle the agreement until December 21, 2004 when a plan for a new stadium in Southeast D.C. was finalized. The Nationals will play at R.F.K. Stadium until the new stadium is ready on the Anacostia River waterfront in 2008.[17]

Additionally, the city has experienced tremendous growth in the areas of Massachusetts Avenue, NoMa (North of Massachusetts), the Southwest Waterfront, the Shaw/U Street Corridor and H Street, with tens of thousands of condos, apartments and retail shops opening. This growth has been dubbed gentrification by many, as the areas experiencing growth had been blighted for many years prior.


Washington, D.C. is located at Washington38°53′42″N, 77°02′11″W (the coordinates of the Zero Milestone, on the Ellipse). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 68.3 square miles (177.0 km²). 61.4 square miles (159.0 km²) of it is land and 6.9 square miles (18.0 km²) of it (10.16%) is water.

Washington is surrounded by the states of Maryland (on its southeast, northeast and northwest sides) and Virginia (on its western side); it interrupts those states' common border, which is the Potomac River's southern shore both upstream and downstream from the District. The Potomac River as it passes Washington is virtually entirely within the District of Columbia border because of colonial riparian rights between Maryland and Virginia.

The District has three major natural flowing streams: the Potomac River, the Anacostia River and Rock Creek. The Anacostia River and Rock Creek are tributaries of the Potomac River. There are also three man-made reservoirs: Dalecarlia Reservoir, which crosses over the northwest border of the District from Maryland; McMillan Reservoir near Howard University; and Georgetown Reservoir upstream of Georgetown and downstream of Rock Creek Park.

The highest point in the District of Columbia is 410 feet (125 m) above sea level at Tenleytown. The lowest point is sea level, which occurs along all of the Anacostia shore and all of the Potomac shore except the uppermost portion (the Little Falls–Chain Bridge area). The sea level Tidal Basin rose eleven feet during Hurricane Isabel on September 18, 2003.

The geographic center of the District of Columbia is located near 4th Street NW, L Street NW and New York Avenue NW (not under the Capitol Dome, as is sometimes said).

Geographical features of Washington, D.C. include Theodore Roosevelt Island, Columbia Island, the Three Sisters Islands and Hains Point.


Washington has a humid subtropical climate. Its climate is typical of Mid-Atlantic U.S. areas removed from bodies of water, with four distinct seasons.

Summer tends to be hot and humid with daily high temperatures in July and August averaging in the high 80s to low 90s (in °F; about 30° to 33 °C). The combination of heat and humidity in the summer brings very frequent thunderstorms, some of which occasionally produce tornadoes in the area. The combination of heat and humidity can also be reminiscent of a true tropical climate.

Spring and fall are mild with high temperatures in April and October averaging in the high 60s to low 70s (about 20 °C).

Winter brings sustained cool temperatures and occasional snowfall. Average highs tend to be in the low 40s (6 to 8 °C) and lows in the mid 20s (-5 to -2 °C) from mid-December to mid-February. Additionally, Arctic air can lower nighttime lows into the teens, even in the city.

The average annual snowfall is 16.6 inches (422 mm), and some outlying suburbs (north and west) receive upwards of six more inches of snowfall each year.  and the average high temperature in January is 41 °F (5 °C); the average low for January is 27 °F (-3 °C). The average annual temperature is 57.5 °F (14.1 °C). The highest recorded temperature was 106 °F (41 °C) on July 20, 1930 and August 6, 1918 and the lowest recorded temperature was -15 °F (-26 °C) on February 11, 1899, during the Blizzard of 1899.

Month Avg.
Mean Avg.
Jan 42°F 27°F 35°F 3.21 in. 79°F (1950) -14°F (1881)
Feb 47°F 30°F 38°F 2.63 in. 84°F (1930) -15°F (1899)
Mar 56°F 37°F 46°F 3.60 in. 93°F (1907) 4°F (1873)
Apr 66°F 46°F 56°F 2.77 in. 95°F (2002) 15°F (1923)
May 75°F 56°F 66°F 3.82 in. 99°F (1991) 33°F (1906)
Jun 84°F 65°F 75°F 3.13 in. 102°F (1874) 43°F (1897)
Jul 88°F 70°F 79°F 3.66 in. 106°F (1930) 52°F (1933)
Aug 86°F 69°F 77°F 3.44 in. 106°F (1918) 49°F (1986)
Sep 79°F 62°F 71°F 3.79 in. 104°F (1881) 36°F (1904)
Oct 68°F 50°F 59°F 3.22 in. 96°F (1941) 26°F (1917)
Nov 57°F 40°F 49°F 3.03 in. 86°F (1974) 11°F (1929)
Dec 47°F 32°F 39°F 3.05 in. 79°F (1998) -13°F (1880)


Washington is home to numerous national landmarks and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. The National Mall is a large, open park area in the center of the city featuring many monuments to American leaders; it also serves to connect the White House and the United States Capitol buildings. Located prominently in the center of the Mall is the Washington Monument. Other notable points of interest near the Mall include the Jefferson Memorial (see right), Lincoln Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, National World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, District of Columbia War Memorial, Albert Einstein Memorial, and United States Navy Memorial.

Jefferson Memorial

The world famous Smithsonian Institution is located in the District. The Smithsonian today is a collection of free museums that includes the Anacostia Museum, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Hirshhorn Museum, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of Natural History, National Portrait Gallery, National Postal Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery and National Zoo.

Smithsonian Castle

There are many art museums in D.C., in addition to those that are part of the Smithsonian, including the free National Gallery of Art, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Corcoran Gallery of Art and Phillips Collection.

The Library of Congress and the National Archives house thousands of documents covering every period in American history. Some of the more notable documents in the National Archives include the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The District of Columbia operates its own public library system with 27 branches throughout the city. The main branch — which occupies a multi-story glass and steel-framed building at the intersection of 9th and G Streets, N.W., designed by modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe — is known as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.[28] It has a large mural in its main hall depicting the civil rights leader.

Other points of interest in the District include Arena Stage, Chinatown, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family (across the street from the Basilica Shrine), Blair House, Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Folger Shakespeare Library, Ford's Theatre, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, International Spy Museum, National Building Museum, National Geographic Society, the Awakening at Hains Point, Old Post Office Building, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Franciscan Monastery, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Victims of Communism Memorial, and the Washington National Cathedral.


Unemployment in the District of Columbia, ranging from 1.5% in Upper Northwest to 16.3% in Ward 8, reflects economic disparity that exists across the city.

Washington, D.C. has a growing economy that is also diversifying with a decreasing percentage of federal government jobs over the current and next decade and an increasing percentage of professional and business service jobs over the same period. With five Fortune 1000 companies (two of which are also Fortune 500 companies), and a large support infrastructure of professional services, including law, public relations, and architecture, Washington, D.C. is one of the Gamma World Cities. Washington, D.C. is also a leading city for global real estate investment, behind London, New York City, and Paris.

As of 2002, the federal government accounts for 27% of Washington, D.C.'s jobs. The presence of many major government agencies, including the Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration, has led to business development both in the District itself as well as in the National Capital Region of Maryland and especially northern Virginia. These businesses include federal contractors (defense and civilian), numerous nonprofit organizations, law firms and lobbying firms, national associations of labor and professional groups, catering and administrative services companies, and several other industries that are sustained by the economic presence of the federal government. This arrangement makes the Washington economy virtually recession-proof relative to the rest of the country, because the federal government will still operate no matter the state of the general economy, and it often grows during recessions.

The gross state product of the District in 2006 was $87.664 billion, ranking it #35 when compared with the fifty states. In 2006, Expansion Magazine ranked DC among the top 10 metropolitan areas in the nation for climates favorable to business expansion. In terms of commercial office space, Washington, D.C. has the 3rd largest downtown in America, only behind New York City and Chicago respectively.
Of non-government employers, Washington, D.C.'s major universities and hospitals are among the top employers with the George Washington University, Georgetown University and Washington Hospital Center as the top three. Howard University and Fannie Mae round out the top five employers in Washington, D.C.

Washington is also a global media center. Most major news outlets have bureaus in the city and Washington is home to Black Entertainment Television, C-SPAN, National Public Radio, the Washington Post Company and XM Satellite Radio. Washington's unique scenery makes it a popular location for film and television production.


The 2005 Census Bureau estimate of the city's population was 582,049. After the city government questioned the original results – an estimate of 550,521 – the Census Bureau revised the estimate. The revised figure marked the first increase in the city's population since 1950.

As of the 2000 Census, there were 572,059 people, 248,338 households, and 114,235 families residing in the city. The population density was 9,316.4 per square mile (3,597.3/km²). There were 274,845 housing units at an average density of 1,728.3/km² (4,476.1/mi²). The largest Hispanic group is Salvadoran, accounting for an estimated 18,505 of Washington's 45,901 Hispanic population. D.C. has a steadily declining African American population, due to many middle-class and professional African Americans moving to the suburbs, mostly in Maryland (for example, the African American majority in Prince George's County) and Northern Virginia, Baltimore, Richmond, and the Hampton Roads area of Virginia aggravated by the rising cost of living in the area.

A 2007 report found that about one-third of Washington residents are functionally illiterate, compared to a national rate of about one in five. This is attributed in part to the 170,000 Hispanic, Ethiopian, and Eritrean immigrants, many of whom are not proficient in English. This shows huge disparities in the city because over 45% of residents have a college degree or higher and it ranks 4th in the nation with that educational attainment A 2000 study shows that 83.42% of Washington, D.C. residents age 5 and older speak only English at home and 9.18% speak Spanish. French is the third-most-spoken language at 1.67%.

According to the Census Bureau, the District's daytime population is estimated at 982,853. The influx of more than 410,000 workers into Washington on a normal business day boosts the population by 72%, the largest percentage increase of any city studied and the second-largest net increase behind New York City.
The Greater Washington metropolitan area, including contiguous areas of Maryland and Virginia, had an estimated population of 5.8 million in 2003, according to the estimates of the Greater Washington Initiative.

As host to over 180 embassies and hundreds of international organizations, Washington, D.C. has a substantial population of foreign residents. There are also many students from abroad studying at the local universities and colleges. This adds a cosmopolitan flavor to the city.
Historical populations
Census Pop.
1800 8,144
1810 15,471 90.0%
1820 23,336 50.8%
1830 30,261 29.7%
1840 33,745 11.5%
1850 51,687 53.2%
1860 75,080 45.3%
1870 131,700 75.4%
1880 177,624 34.9%
1890 230,392 29.7%
1900 278,718 21.0%
1910 331,069 18.8%
1920 437,571 32.2%
1930 486,869 11.3%
1940 663,091 36.2%
1950 802,178 21.0%
1960 763,956 -4.8%
1970 756,510 -1.0%
1980 638,333 -15.6%
1990 606,900 -4.9%
2000 572,059 -5.7%
Est. 2006 581,530 1.7%

For further information about Washington D.C. please visit the websites below: Official Website Washington, D.C. travel guide from Wikitravel DC Museums List of Metro Rail stops and Stations

nformation provided from the Wikipedia article found at © 2008 Move In And Out, Inc.

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