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Historical Highlights

The opening of the current House Chamber

December 16, 1857
The opening of the current House Chamber Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
A colorized, 1898 stereoview featuring the new House Chamber.
On this date, the House of Representatives met in its current chamber for the first time at the opening of the 35th Congress (1857–1859) despite unfinished work on the heating apparatus and the central stairwell leading to the room. Under the supervision of Thomas U. Walter, Architect of the Capitol, construction on major extensions to both wings of the Capitol began on July 4, 1851. Planning for the new, larger chamber compensated for many of the shortcomings of the Old Hall of the House (now Statuary Hall) which had been in use since 1819. The new chamber offered improved acoustics and ventilation, and more space to accommodate the expanding number of Representatives. Its wrought iron and stained glass ceiling, along with its painted details and Renaissance revival furniture possessed what Crayon, an art connoisseur’s publication, described as “surpassing gorgeousness . . . an artistic effect unsurpassed in North America.” Some legislators, however, disapproved of its rather sumptuous appearance. Senator Jacob Collamer of Vermont, a former Representative from the 1840s, described the new House Chamber as being “entirely overburdened…by the great variety of colors [in it]…I think it sort of [like] Joseph’s coat.”

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