Washington, D.C.

The United States Capitol

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Washington, D.C., officially called the District of Columbia, is the capital of the United States. It was founded on July 16, 1790, and today has a city population of 599,657 (2009 estimate) and an area of 68 square miles (177 sq km). It should be noted, however, that during the week, Washington, D.C.'s population rises to well over 1 million people due to suburban commuters. The population of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area was 5.4 million people as of 2009.

Washington, D.C. is home to all three branches of the U.S. government as well as many international organizations and the embassies of 174 foreign nations. In addition to being the center of the U.S. government, Washington, D.C. is known for its history. The city limits include many historic national monuments and famous museums like the Smithsonian Institution. The following is a list of 10 important things to know about Washington, D.C.

Inhabited by the Nacotchtank Tribe of Indigenous People

When Europeans first arrived in what is present-day Washington, D.C. in the 17th century, the area was inhabited by the Nacotchtank tribe. By the 18th century though, Europeans had forcibly relocated the tribe and the region was becoming more developed. In 1749, Alexandria, Virginia, was founded and in 1751, the Province of Maryland chartered Georgetown along the Potomac River. Eventually, both were included in the original Washington, D.C., District.

The Residence Act

In 1788, James Madison stated that the new U.S. nation would need a capital that was distinct from the states. Shortly thereafter, Article I of the U.S. Constitution stated that a district, separate from the states, would become the seat of government. On July 16, 1790, the Residence Act established that this capital district would be located along the Potomac River and President George Washington would decide exactly where.

The Organic Act Officially Organized the District of Columbia

Initially, Washington, D.C. was a square and measured 10 miles (16 km) on each side. First, a federal city was constructed near Georgetown and on September 9, 1791, the city was named Washington and the newly established federal district was named Columbia. In 1801, the Organic Act officially organized the District of Columbia and it was expanded to include Washington, Georgetown, and Alexandria.

The War of 1812

In August 1814, Washington, D.C. was attacked by British forces during the War of 1812 and the Capitol, Treasury and White House were all burned. They were quickly repaired, however, and governmental operations resumed. In 1846, Washington, D.C. lost some of its areas when Congress returned all District territory south of the Potomac back to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Organic Act of 1871 then combined the City of Washington, Georgetown and Washington County into a single entity known as the District of Columbia. This is the region that became known as today's Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., Is Still Considered Separate

Today, Washington, D.C., is still considered separate from its neighboring states (Virginia and Maryland) and it is governed by a mayor and a city council. The U.S. Congress, however, has the highest authority over the area and it can overturn local laws if necessary. In addition, residents of Washington, D.C. were not allowed to vote in presidential elections until 1961. Washington, D.C. also has a non-voting Congressional delegate but it does not have any senators.

Economy Focused on Service and Government Jobs

Washington, D.C. currently has a large growing economy that is mainly focused on the service sector and government jobs. According to Wikipedia, in 2008, federal government jobs made up 27% of the jobs in Washington, D.C. In addition to government jobs, Washington, D.C. also has industries related to education, finance, and research.

D.C. Is 68 Square Miles

The total area of Washington, D.C. today is 68 square miles (177 sq km), all of which formerly belonged to Maryland. The area is surrounded by Maryland on three sides and Virginia to the south. The highest point in Washington, D.C. is Point Reno at 409 feet (125 m) and it is located in the Tenleytown neighborhood. Much of Washington, D.C. is parkland and the district was highly planned during its initial construction. Washington, D.C. is divided into four quadrants: the Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest. Each quadrant radiates out from the Capitol building.

The Climate Is Humid Subtropical

The climate of Washington, D.C. is considered humid subtropical. It has cold winters with an average snowfall at about 14.7 inches (37 cm) and hot, humid summers. The average January low temperature is 27.3 F (-3 C) while the average July high is 88 F (31 C).

The Population Distribution

As of 2007, Washington, D.C. had a population distribution of 56% African American, 36% White, 3% Asian, and 5% other. The district has had a significant population of African Americans since its founding largely because of the freeing of enslaved Black people in the southern states following the American Revolution. Recently, however, the percentage of African Americans has been declining in Washington, D.C., as more of the population moves to the suburbs.

Cultural Center of the U.S.

Washington, D.C. is considered a cultural center of the U.S. because of its many National Historic Landmarks, museums and historic places such as the Capitol and White House. Washington, D.C. is home to the National Mall which is a large park within the city. The park contains museums like the Smithsonian and the National Museum of Natural History. The Washington Monument is located on the west end of the National Mall.


  • Wikipedia.org. (5 October 2010). Washington Monument - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Monument
  • Wikipedia.org. (30 September 2010). Washington, D.C. - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington,_D.C.
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Briney, Amanda. "Washington, D.C." ThoughtCo, Dec. 4, 2020, thoughtco.com/washington-dc-geography-1435747. Briney, Amanda. (2020, December 4). Washington, D.C. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/washington-dc-geography-1435747 Briney, Amanda. "Washington, D.C." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/washington-dc-geography-1435747 (accessed June 3, 2023).