In this video House Curator Farar Elliott paints a picture of what the Chamber looked liked long ago, and how it looks today.
The House Chamber opened on December 16, 1857, part of the extensive building project that created the north and south wings of the Capitol. The expanded space accommodated more Members and visitors, and its flat ceiling and rectangular shape better regulated sound. The Chamber is an interior room, insulating the House from outside noise. Initially, natural light was provided by the stained glass skylight, and fresh air arrived via steam-powered fans.
Victorian taste prevailed in the décor, although it was modified over time with changes in art and furnishings. The marble rostrum and painted iron decorative elements, which remained the same from 1857 to 1950, served as the focal point of the Chamber. Representatives used a variety of seating options over the years, reflecting both changing decorative tastes and practical considerations. The selection of paintings faced similar deliberations, with debates over what subjects and which artists were most appropriate for the venerable institution surrounding each choice.