Washington, D.C

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Washington, D.C


the capital of the USA; a major political, cultural, and scientific center of the country.

Washington is located near the Atlantic coast along the lower course of the Potomac River, where the latter is joined by the Anacostia River. The city has an elevation of 128 m. It is located at the junction of the two principal regions of the USA—the North and the South. Its climate is subtropical and humid, with an average temperature of approximately 1° Cin January and 25° C in July. Precipitation amounts to more than 1,000 mm annually. In its administration the city has been coextensive with the federal District of Columbia since 1878, and its area is 200 sq km. As of 1968, about 810,000 people lived within the boundaries of the federal district. (In 1910 there were 331,000 inhabitants, and in 1930 there were 482,000.) More than three-fifths of the population are Negroes. (In 1930 they were approximately 30 percent of the total.) In 1968 the area (including the suburbs, located in the states of Maryland and Virginia) had a total population of 2.5 million.

Municipal government. The introduction of a unique system of government in Washington was directly linked with the Constitution of the USA, which asserts that questions of governing the capital fall under the jurisdiction of the federal authorities. There are no elective municipal organs; the city authorities are directly subordinate to the federal government. Legislative authority in Washington is implemented by the federal Congress, whose houses have committees on matters pertaining to the District of Columbia. Moreover, numerous federal agencies participate in governing Washington. At the head of the municipal government are a commissioner (who is also the mayor of the city) and a council of nine members appointed by the president. Prior to 1967 the municipal government was directed by three commissioners. Subordinate to them were the executive organs: the various departments, bureaus, and committees. The council ratifies the budget for Washington, and it passes ordinances on questions of local taxation, the maintenance of law and order, and so forth. The Congress of the USA has several times considered bills on the establishment of an elective municipal government in Washington, but they were rejected. Permanent residents of the District of Columbia, who before 1961 had had no voting rights at all, are now permitted to participate in presidential elections, for which they choose three electors. They are still barred, however, from electing anyone to represent them in Congress. The governments of the suburbs of Greater Washington, which are located outside of the boundaries of the District of Columbia, are administered by the municipal authorities of their respective states.

Historical information. Washington was founded in 1791 and named in honor of G. Washington, the first president of the USA. In 1814, during the Anglo-American War (1812-14 [War of 1812]), Washington was burned by a British landing party. After the war it was rebuilt. The president and Congress are located in Washington, as are the principal government institutions that direct the domestic and foreign policies of the USA (moved from Philadelphia in 1800). The leading organs of the Organization of American States are also situated here. Several times Washington has been the site of international conferences (including the Washington Conference of 1921-22). During the 1960’s, it became the site of large-scale demonstrations by advocates of peace and youth groups, as well as demonstrations by the Negro population in defense of their civil rights.

Economy. With the exception of printing, industry is insignificant in Washington and is limited to branches that directly serve the city’s population (baking, confectionery, dairy, and so forth). The suburbs have seen the growth of the radioelectronics industry, primarily in connection with scientific research. Large government printing plants, a naval arsenal, and a mint are located in Washington. The gainfully employed population of the entire area are as follows (1968 estimate, figures in parentheses are those working within the federal district): total 1,055,000 (670,000); government service 410,000 (355,000); wholesale and retail trade 200,000 (85,000); services 220,000 (128,000 mostly Negroes); finance 63,000 (33,000); transportation and communications 58,000 (30,000); construction 60,000 (20,000); and processing 44,000 (21,000). Washington is a major transportation center, where five main railroad lines and dozens of airlines converge; it is also a river port.

Architecture. The plan for Washington was drawn up between 1790 and 1793 by the French engineer P. C. L’Enfant, with the assistance of the educator and statesman T. Jefferson. There is a rectangular network of streets supplemented by diagonal avenues, including those that converge radially on the Capitol, where Congress meets (1793-1865, architects W. Thornton, B. Latrobe, and T. Walter). Attached to the broad main park called the Mall is the park of the White House (1792-1829, architects J. Hoban and B. Latrobe). In the architecture of government buildings, embassies, missions, and so forth, which are concentrated in the northwest section of the city, the influence of European classicism is predominant. The height of buildings in Washington is limited; they must not be higher than the Capitol.

Washington is one of the greenest capitals in the world. (Its park area is approximately 2,800 hectares.) There are important monuments to the following persons: G. Washington (1848-84, architect R. Mills), A. Lincoln (1914-22, architect H. Bacon), and T. Jefferson (1939-41, architects J. R. Pope, O. R. Eggers, and D. P. Higgins). In the southwest section of the city there are a river port and warehouses; in the northeast and southeast sections are the city’s slums, mainly inhabited by the poorer layers of the population, primarily Negroes. In the suburbs there are rich villas and smaller private homes. In Arlington, on the right bank of the Potomac River, are the Pentagon and the Na- tional Cemetery, with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. During the last few decades housing construction has proceeded in the northwest section in Georgetown, and gov- ernment and commercial buildings have been erected in the southwest (for example, the Criminal Court of the USA, 1967, architect V. Lundy; and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1968, architects M. Breuer and H. Beckhard). The J. F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and other buildings have also been built in the south- west. Situated beyond the city line of Washington, in the state of Virginia, are the Dulles International Airport at Chantilly (1958-62, architect Eero Saarinen) and the satellite city of Reston (1963-65, architects Whittlesey and Conklin).

Educational, scientific, and cultural institutions. Washington has five universities (including Georgetown, Howard, and George Washington), as well as an Advanced School of Agriculture and the National War College. There are many scientific institutions (particularly those under the jurisdiction of the federal government), including the National Academy of Sciences, the Smithsonian Institution, the Carnegie Institution, and the Brookings Institution. Scientific societies include the American Chemical Society, National Geographic Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Society of Naturalists, and others. Located in the Washington suburb of Beltsville there is a large research center under the administration of the Department of Agriculture. The Library of Congress, in Washington itself, is one of the largest libraries in the world. Museums include the National Museum of the USA (with its collections in the fields of natural history, history, archaeology, ethnography, the history of industry and technology, and so forth), the National Aeronautics and Space Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the National Collection of Fine Arts, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Freer, Corcoran, and Phillips Memorial art galleries.


Stolitsy mira. Moscow, 1966.
Tindall, W. Standard History of the City of Washington. Knoxville, 1914.
Bryan, W. B. History of the National Capital, vols. 1-2. New York, 1914-16.
Jacobsen, H. N. [ed.] A Guide to the Architecture of Washington, New York, 1965.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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