Events (80 total)

Pre-1800s

In February 1792 President George Washington dismissed city planner Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who had been hired to design the new capital but continually argued with the Federal City commissioners. One of L'Enfant's most offensive acts was…

In July 1790, when Congress approved the establishment of a federal capital on the Potomac River, the area they chose was already owned by people who lived and farmed there. President George Washington and other government officials negotiated with…

In 1791, President George Washington hired Pierre Charles L'Enfant to create a plan for the layout of the federal city. L'Enfant focused on the area between Tiber Creek, today Constitution Avenue and the Eastern Branch, also called the Anacostia…

1800-1829

On August 21, 1800, the Marine Band gave its first public concert in Washington on a hill overlooking the area which became the National Mall. At the time, the band probably consisted of two oboes, two clarinets, two French horns, a bassoon, and a…

The Center Market, one of the first formal markets in Washington City, opened in mid-December 1801. The market's location was proposed in the early plans of the city and George Washington had set aside land for its establishment in March 1797. Laws…

James McGirk, also spelled McGurk, was hanged on October 28, 1802, near the Capitol in the same area today occupied by the statues of Presidents Garfield and Grant. He was the first person executed in the District of Columbia. In April 1802, McGirk…

In May of 1810 President James Madison broke ground for the Washington Canal amidst city officials and citizens crowded at New Jersey Avenue SE. The Canal was part of the original city plan from 1791, but work stalled until 1809 when Congress…

After defeating American troops at the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814, British troops under the command of Rear Admiral George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross entered Washington, intent on destroying government property. First Lady Dolley…

1830-1859

Washington's first race riot spilled to the edges of the National Mall in 1835. On August 12, angered at rumors of a slave attack on a white woman, a mob of angry white men descended on the Epicurean Eating House owned by Mr. Beverly Snow at Sixth…

In February 1841 President-elect William Henry Harrison arrived during a snowstorm at the Baltimore and Ohio railway station near the US Capitol. The first president to arrive at an inaugural by train, his inauguration also marked the first time an…

On May 24, 1844 after receiving $30,000 in appropriations from Congress, inventor Samuel Morse sent the first official telegraph message from Washington, DC to Baltimore, Maryland. In a series of dots and dashes, later known as Morse code, Morse…

James Smithson, an English scientist, specified in his will that if his nephew, Henry J. Hungerford, died without heirs, his estate should be given to the United States to found an institution "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge." Smithson…

James Renwick, Jr began work on the original Smithsonian Institution building in 1847. Renwick's design was inspired by western European structures originally built in the 1100s, making this Gothic Revival building look like a castle. When…

In 1848 the Freemason Society laid the cornerstone for the Washington Monument during an elaborate Fourth of July ceremony commemorating George Washington. Thousands attended, including the President and Vice-President, Congressmen, representatives…

In 1850 President Millard Fillmore asked Andrew Jackson Downing, the nation's preeminent landscape gardener and advocate of a rural American style, to design the landscaping for the largely undeveloped National Mall and Smithsonian grounds.…

1860-1889

On June 16, 1861, on the site of today’s National Air and Space Museum, T.S.C. Lowe launched his balloon the "Enterprise." Only months into the Civil War, Lowe launched his balloon in order to convince President Lincoln of the usefulness of the…

In 1862 the Washington & Georgetown Railroad Company opened Washington, DC's first streetcar line running nine horse-drawn cars on tracks extending from the US Capitol to the State Department. The growth of public transportation was fed by the…

The original Smithsonian Institution Building, often called the Smithsonian Castle, caught fire in 1865 when workmen mistakenly installed a stovepipe in the building wall. The building was poorly fireproofed and the fire kindled unnoticed within the…

In August 1865 the Washington Nationals Baseball Club invited the Philadelphia Athletics and the Brooklyn Atlantics to come and play in what was billed as a tournament. The Nationals constructed stands for spectators on their home turf just south of…

By 1871, the Washington Canal was little more than an open sewer. Although many people proposed ways to make the canal functional, no solution was ever put into practice. In February 1871 Congress revoked the charters that made Washington and…

In 1872, the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station opened near the Capitol, crossing the parks and lawns of the National Mall. The first train departed at 5 a.m. on July 2 with sixty passengers. The depot buildings were opened in 1874. The presence…

In 1870 the Army Corps of Engineers, headed by Major Nathaniel Michler, began dredging the Potomac to remove silt and improve ship traffic. Dredged material was dumped into the tidal flats along the Washington waterfront. In 1875 the project was…

The first official White House Easter Egg Roll was held Monday April 22, 1878. Earlier in the 1870s, children rolled eggs across the lawn at the US Capitol. Congressmen were not pleased with this activity and in 1877 prohibited the Capitol grounds…

On July 2, 1881, a deranged Charles Guiteau shot President James A. Garfield at the Baltimore and Potomac Railway Station. Guiteau was an unsuccessful lawyer, evangelist, and insurance salesman, who thought that the President owed him a government…

In May 1887, militia groups from nineteen states and the District of Columbia participated in a drill competition on the National Mall. They set up their tents on the grounds of the Washington Monument and participated in marching, drilling, and…

On June 2, 1889, heavy rains caused massive flooding in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and overwhelmed the South Fork Dam. The storm also hit the Washington, DC, area. As a result, the Potomac River flooded and areas around Pennsylvania Avenue were under…

1890-1919

In 1894, economic depression brought more than forty different armies of unemployed workers to Washington, DC. Jacob S. Coxey, a wealthy Populist, led the most well known of these groups. Publicity of the march worried the authorities and 1,500…

In 1902 the Senate Park Commission announced a plan to renovate the National Mall. Named after the committee chair, Senator James McMillan, the McMillan Plan redesigned the layout of the Mall from a system of informal gardens to today's streamlined,…

Over 5,000 marchers, mostly women, came to Washington, DC, from around the country to participate in the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913. They marched down Pennsylvania Avenue from near the Capital to the Treasury Building. The mostly male crowd lining…

The first performance at the Sylvan Theatre on the Washington Monument grounds took place on the evening of June 2, 1917. Artist and philanthropist Alice Pike Barney Hemmick founded the theater, believing that Washington needed a nationally supported…

The first airplane carrying US mail left the Washington Polo Grounds, now in West Potomac Park, on May 15, 1918. The US Post Office Department created air mail service to speed up the delivery of mail traveling between Washington, Philadelphia, and…

Even before the Tidal Basin was constructed, planners proposed to use it as a recreational bathing beach. On August 24, 1918, the Tidal Basin bathing beach officially opened with a water carnival. Diving competitions, swimming competitions, and canoe…

1920-1949

In 1925 the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. The organized event brought 25,000 members in full regalia to the city. Demonstrating at the height of their power, the KKK was a national fraternal organization…

On June 11, 1927, President Calvin Coolidge awarded American aviator Charles Lindbergh the Distinguished Flying Cross in a ceremony held on the north side of the Washington Monument Grounds. Lindbergh, who was 25 years old, had completed the first…

In May 1932, 17,000 World War I veterans and their families arrived in Washington, led by Walter W. Waters. Propelled by hard economic times of the Depression, they called themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Forces. They traveled to Washington to ask…

As soon as the Japanese cherry trees were planted, Washingtonians and tourists enjoyed the blossoms every spring. Although there were cherry blossom fetes in the 1920s, they were mostly held in Hains Point. The first Cherry Blossom Festival, which…

During the fall and winter months of 1934, the Washington Monument was prepped for repairs and cleaning, due to cracking at the base. Scaffolding was built around the 550-foot monument to allow the workers to make the repairs with Public Works…

In March 1935, the sky went dark over Washington, DC as a dust storm from the midwest blanketed the city. As this offshoot of the Dust Bowl moved over the nation's capitol, Hugh Bennett, head of the Soil Erosion Service in the Department of…

At sunset on July 14, 1935, Dr. Hans Kindler conducted the National Symphony Orchestra in the first performance at the Watergate steps near the Lincoln Memorial. The orchestra played from a specially contracted barge anchored in the Potomac near the…

One of the highest floods to hit Washington, DC, occurred on March 20, 1936. Flood waters crested at the Key Bridge at 18.5 feet. Around the Mall, much of East and West Potomac Parks were underwater, and some cherry trees were killed. Advance warning…

The 1937 Boy Scout Jamboree was the first ever “jambo” event, now held every four years. 25,000 Scouts from around the country attended the event, camping for more than a week around the Washington Monument and Tidal Basin. Scouts rode in the…

In November 1938 a group of white women led by Eleanor Patterson, owner of the Washington Times-Herald, protested the removal of cherry trees from the Tidal Basin to make way for the Jefferson Memorial. On November 18, the women chained themselves to…

African American contralto Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. A peaceful crowd of seventy-five thousand people stretched from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument to attend the free…

On October 6, 1943, a group of 400 rabbis walked from Union Station to the US Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, and White House in an effort to raise awareness that millions of European Jews were being killed or imprisoned by the Nazi regime. Led by Hillel…

In October 1945, World War II Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was honored with a parade in Washington, DC, before being presented with a Gold Star by President Truman for his service as the Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean…

On July 4, 1947, Washington, DC's Independence Day celebration was televised for the first time. The Mall was the backdrop for the national event attended by nearly 225,000 people. Spectators on the Mall, and many watching on television, enjoyed…

When President Truman moved in in 1945, the White House was showing its age. Burned by British troops in 1814, renovated in 1902 and 1927, and expanded several times, the piecemeal and constantly incomplete renovations to the White House had left the…

1950-1979

When President Truman moved in in 1945, the White House was showing its age. Burned by British troops in 1814, renovated in 1902 and 1927, and expanded several times, the piecemeal and constantly incomplete renovations to the White House had left the…

Held in the spring of 1957, the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom was organized by the newly formed Southern Leaders Conference (later known as the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition or SCLC). 25,000 demonstrators attended the event at the Lincoln…

Roughly 250,000 people joined The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in US history. Marching for social and economic equality, the crowd stretched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln…

First Lady Lady Bird Johnson was a conservationist and lover of nature. She believed that the environment could help shape people's lives by improving their health and attitudes. In 1964, she established the Society for a More Beautiful National…

The First Annual Smithsonian Kite Carnival (later referred to as the Kite Festival) took place on the National Mall on March 25, 1967. Individuals could compete in contests with homemade kites as well as ready-made ones. The festival also included…

On April 12, 1967, a classic wood merry-go-round with 33 animals and 2 chariots moved to the National Mall near the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building. Rides cost 25 cents apiece. In 1981 museum officials replaced the worn-out merry-go-round…

Now called the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the first Festival of American Folklife was created by Secretary of the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley and James R. Morris. Smithsonian Secretary Dillon Ripley wanted to change museums from stuffy…

Resurrection City, organized by Ralph Abernathy, was part of the 1968 Poor People's Campaign, a demonstration for full employment and living wages. During May 1968 thousands of demonstrators representing communities across the country lived in a…

The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam began as nationwide anti-war protests which took place during October 1969. A month later, on November 15, roughly half a million people gathered in Washington for anti-war activities. Protestors spoke out in…

For a week in April 1971, Vietnam veterans camped on the Mall near the Capitol to protest the Vietnam War. The veterans set up camp in defiance of recent court rulings declaring it illegal to sleep on the Mall. The protest was organized by Vietnam…

The Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History) hosted one of the five Inaugural Balls for Richard Nixon's second Presidential Inauguration in January 1973. During the party, a rooster escaped from an…

Before the National Air and Space Museum opened in July 1975, objects like this WWII-era "Spitfire" airplane arrived. To get the plane inside the museum, its wings were temporarily removed and it was led through the museum's west end windows. These…

In July of 1976 Queen Elizabeth II came to the US to commemorate the Bicentennial of the American Revolution. One of her stops while in Washington, DC, was the Smithsonian Institution Building, or the “Castle,” and the National Mall. The night…

The Smithsonian Metro station opened on July 1, 1977 giving visitors and residents a new option for taking public transportation to the Mall. At the official opening, the Metro's General Manager presented the Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian…

In February 1978 the American Indian Movement began The Longest Walk, a cross-country march beginning on Alcatraz Island in California, to support tribal rights and bring attention to 11 pieces of legislation before Congress affecting American…

Hundreds of tractors paraded into Washington in February 5, 1979 to protest existing agriculture policies. The American Agriculture Movement organized this protest in 1979 after the 1st Tractorcade in 1978 did not bring changes they demanded. After…

On Presidents' Day 1979 a 22-inch blizzard shut down Washington, DC. Forecasters had predicted that the storm would bypass the city, so residents and city planners were taken by surprise. For the first time in fifty years, the Smithsonian museums…

The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, held on October 14, 1979, was inspired in part by the assassination of openly gay California politician Harvey Milk. The five issues the march supported included the end of anti-homosexual…

1980-1999

The National Black Family Reunion is a cultural event held annually on the Mall. Sponsored by the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), the event celebrates black community, church, and family values. It was first established by Dr. Dorothy I.…

The first display of the Project NAMES Aids Memorial Quilt was on the National Mall on October 11, 1987, during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Composed of nearly 2,000 panels, the Quilt was larger than a football field.…

The first Run to the Wall event, now known as Rolling Thunder, was held on Memorial Day in 1988. The rally was organized by Vietnam veteran Ray Manzo who wanted to bring national attention to the plight of prisoners of war and soldiers missing in…

The DC Latino Festival first began in 1970 as a neighborhood celebration of the diverse Latino community within Washington. Growing each year, the Festival moved to the Mall in 1989 and has also been held on Pennsylvania Avenue. Today the festival,…

In March 1990, disability rights activists gathered at the west front of the Capitol to pressure the House of Representatives to pass a disability rights bill. The bill passed in the Senate the year before, but it stalled in the House. Nearly 1,000…

This festival celebrating American cultural diversity was held on the days leading up to the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton. It was organized by the Inaugural Committee, with support from the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of…

This march on the National Mall for African American civil rights was proposed by Louis Farrakhan and organized with the support of the National African American Leadership Summit, the Nation of Islam, and various civil rights organizations. The…

The summer outdoor film festival “Screen on the Green” on the National Mall began in 1999. Held at sundown throughout July and August, this free event is one of the most popular social and recreational events held on the Mall among locals and…

America’s Millennium Gala was the culminating event of a larger three-day project celebrating the millennium. The event was produced by Quincy Jones and George Stevens Jr., hosted by Will Smith, and premiered a film by Steven Spielberg. Festivities…

2000-present

The National Powwows began in September 2002. They were organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in anticipation of the opening of the museum. The events were attended by thousands from the US and Canada to celebrate…

In March 2010, as Congress was finalizing the Affordable Care Act, immigrants and activists took to the National Mall to call for immigration reform. Participants urged President Obama to keep his campaign promise of comprehensive immigration reform…

In 2010 the DC government announced that public wireless internet was available on the National Mall. Visitors and residents can get online by logging into “DC Wifi” using wifi-enabled devices. The National Gallery of Art, Museum of National…

On October 30, 2010, John Stewart and Stephen Colbert led a rally on the National Mall. The event was a combination of Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” and Colbert’s “March to Keep Fear Alive”. The event drew 215,000 people and was…

On August 23, 2011, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake affected the Washington, DC area and much of the east coast. From its epicenter in Louisa County, Virginia, the unusual quake caused minimal damage. However, the exterior of the Washington Monument had…

Restoration of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool began in November 2010. The two-year, $30.7 million renovation project almost completely rebuilt the structure. The 1923 original pool was built on an unstable foundation that sank and cracked. The…

The Art of Revolution, a group who uses symbolic events to spark political action and social change, staged the "One Million Bones" exhibit on the National Mall June 8-10, 2013. This event laid out one million handcrafted "bones" on the central green…