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Washington, DC

Washington, DC, is the capital of the United States of America. Often referred to as "the District" or "DC," Washington is home to all three branches of government, 172 foreign embassies, and several international organizations. The exact site of Washington on the Potomac River between the states of Maryland and Virginia was chosen by President George Washington. The population of Washington, DC, is nearly 600,000 residents, the majority of whom are African American.


Washington, DC, is divided into four quadrants -- Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast -- with the United States Capitol Building at the center.

  • Northwest Washington is the District's largest quadrant. The White House is located here, along with the National Cathedral and five universities. Rock Creek Park, the largest natural area in Washington, is in Northwest, as are the diverse neighborhoods of DuPont Circle and Adams Morgan, both popular shopping and nightlife destinations. Much of Washington's economic and political activity is centered in Northwest; it contains the city's financial district and the Federal Triangle, the site of many federal government offices. Foggy Bottom, the neighborhood that contains the central offices of the State Department, is also in Northwest Washington. Northwest is Washington's wealthiest quadrant; its Georgetown neighborhood is known for affluent lobbyist and politician residents. Other neighborhoods in Northwest include Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, and LeDroit Park, where Howard University is located. Northwest's Chinatown district is the site of the Verizon Center, where Washington's professional basketball and hockey teams play their home games.
  • Northeast Washington is the site of the United States National Arboretum and the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Union Station, Washington's Amtrak hub, is located in Northeast Washington. Northeast contains much of Washington's historic Capitol Hill neighborhood. The Brookland neighborhood, also in Northeast Washington, is the site of Catholic University and a number of Catholic institutions, including the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop headquarters.
  • Southeast Washington contains the rest of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, as well as the historic Anacostia neighborhood. The Anacostia River, a tributary of the Potomac, divides Southeast into two distinct parts. On the north side of the Potomac, nearer the Capitol Building, are the RFK Stadium, Navy Yard, and Nationals Park, home of Washington's professional baseball team. Crime and poverty are high in Southeast, though a recent influx of young professionals moving to the area has led to development and gentrification in the Capitol Hill and Eastern Market neighborhoods. Eastern Market is home to a popular long-running public market that first opened in 1873.
  • Southwest Washington is the smallest quadrant in the District and is largely surrounded by water. It is made up of several sections. The Southwest Employment District is home to the Smithsonian Institution, including the National Air and Space Museum, the United States Botanical Gardens, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, as well as a number of federal office buildings. The Southwest Waterfront, which contains the Maine Avenue Fish Market and Potomac Park, is the site of the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II Memorial. The largely residential Bellevue neighborhood, located south of the Anacostia River and west of the Potomac, is the site of Bolling Air Force Base, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the Blue Plains Sewage Treatment Plant.


The federal government is the largest employer in Washington, DC, accounting for more than a quarter of all of the city's jobs. As a result of Washington's position as the nation's political and governmental center, lobbying firms, think tanks, nonprofit organizations, and union and professional organizations make up a large percentage of the city's employers. K Street is the traditional home of lobbying activity. Washington has the country's third-highest volume of commercial downtown office space, behind New York City and Chicago, but ordinances mandating the maximum height of buildings prohibit skyscrapers.


Historic and civic tourism is a major draw in Washington.

  • The National Mall, which includes the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and several museums, is the primary tourist destination.
  • The Smithsonian Institution, a foundation funded by Congress, operates many museums in Washington, including the National Museum of Natural History, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. All these museums are free of charge to visitors.
  • The Mall's National Gallery of Art, an art museum owned by the federal government, is also free of charge.

Washington also boasts substantial offerings in the performing arts.

  • The John F. Kennedy Center, located along the Potomac River, is the home of the Washington Ballet, the National Symphony Orchestra, and the Washington National Opera, and often hosts touring Broadway productions.
  • U Street in Northwest Washington, a traditionally African-American area, is known as "Black Broadway" and contains a number of renowned jazz venues.
  • The city's Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Studio Theatre, and Arena Stage produce independent theater.


  • Several four-year colleges are located in Washington, DC. They include American University, the Catholic University of America, Gallaudet University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Howard University, Southeastern University, Strayer University, Trinity Washington University, and the University of the District of Columbia.
  • The Corcoran College of Art and Design is in Washington, as well as the Wesley Theological Seminary.
  • In addition, Washington is home to federal institutions of higher learning, including the Graduate School at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as the National Defense University and the National Defense Intelligence College, both operated by the U.S. Department of Defense.


Headquartered in Washington are such media companies and outlets as National Public Radio, Voice of America, C-SPAN, National Geographic Channel, Black Entertainment Channel, and XM Satellite Radio.

The Washington Post is the primary local newspaper. The area also hosts The Washington Times and specialty periodicals such as Washington Informer, The Hill, and Washington Afro American.


  • The football huddle was invented at Washington's Gallaudet University for the deaf so players could hide their signing from the opposing team.
  • Washingtonians have always liked their city low-rise. The law limits the height of buildings based on street width; in practice that means about 13 stories max.
  • The Smithsonian's American History Museum contains the ruby slippers from "Wizard of Oz," Prince's yellow guitar, the "M*A*S*H" signpost and Kermit the Frog.
  • The National Museum of Health and Medicine contains the severed leg of a Civil War general, President Eisenhower's gallstones and President Grant's tumor. The leg is on public display.
  • The District of Columbia was originally 100 square miles carved out of Maryland and Virginia, but Congress gave back the Virginia side, about 40 square miles, in 1846.
  • Congress approves the city budget of D.C., though residents elect no voting members to Congress. Hence the D.C. license plate motto: "Taxation Without Representation."
  • Private planes are effectively banned from flying over Washington D.C.; pilots who stray in have been forced to land by fighter planes.
  • The Washington D.C. metropolitan area has the most educated population of any big-city area in the U.S., with half the residents holding college degrees and one-fifth graduate degrees.
  • The number of lawyers per 1,000 residents of D.C. is 28. You'd think it would be more, but it's still the highest ratio in the nation.
  • The segregated all-black Dunbar High School was known for its academic rigor and routinely outperformed the three white high schools in test scores before desegregating in 1955.
  • The first commercial television broadcasts were made in the Washington area in 1928; TV sets used mechanical spinning drums to produce a picture quality that was barely viewable.
  • Despite what you have seen in the TV show "24," there is no secret waterway under the White House and no terrorist could park a car in front because the streets are blocked off.
  • The half-smoke is Washington's native hot dog: half-pork, half-beef, smoked and spicy. Eat one at Ben's Chili Bowl, as did Martin Luther King, Bill Cosby and President Sarkozy of France.
  • Jazz great Duke Ellington was born in Washington D.C., and so was marching band great John Philip Sousa. Both have bridges and schools named after them in the city.
  • Washington-area drivers spend about 70 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, tied with Chicago for the worst delays in the nation.
  • The Washington Metro rail transit system is second only to New York in ridership. Its single busiest day was Jan. 20, 2009, President Obama's inauguration, with 1.1 million passengers.
  • Though best known as coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi also coached the Washington Redskins in 1969 for their first winning season in 14 years. He died in 1970.
  • Those black squirrels you see around Washington are all descended from a group of Canadian black squirrels that escaped from the National Zoo in the early 1900s.
  • Why is there an empty tomb under the Capitol building? Congress wanted to move George Washington's body from his home at Mt. Vernon but gave up after his family objected.
  • The Washington Monument is capped with a solid aluminum pyramid as a lightning deflector. It was made in 1884 by the only aluminum foundry in the country at the time.

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