The Tourist’s Capitol
One of the first tourist destinations in the country, the U.S. Capitol is an icon of American democracy. Visiting the Capitol has long been a part of the American experience, and returning home with some remembrance of the trip is part of that venerable tradition.
Starting around 1820—when the Capitol was fully functional—visitors arrived to see the impressive building and to watch their government in action. The oldest objects included in this exhibition codify the Capitol as the seat of government, and the United States as an established nation with impressive sights to see. After the Civil War, the development of Washington, D.C., accelerated, and the variety of landmarks to visit and ways to immortalize the trip expanded rapidly. In the 20th century, the nature of souvenirs further expanded with the market for commercially-produced objects, many of which focus on the image of the Capitol itself and the public declaration of the visitor's experience.