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Senate Office Building Authorized

April 28, 1904

Drawing of Maltby Building in Washington D.C.

On April 28, 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation authorizing purchase of land for the Senate's first permanent office building—today called the Richard B. Russell Building.

With the original Capitol's completion in 1830, many believed Congress' space needs had been fully met. The next 20 years proved them wrong. The admission of seven new states led to growing demands for enlarged chambers and additional member and committee office space. In 1850, Congress authorized construction of new Senate and House wings that more than doubled the Capitol's length.

Twenty-five years after those wings opened in the late 1850s, unrelenting pressures for additional space caused Congress to authorize construction of terraces along the Capitol's west front. When completed in 1891, these terraces provided 50 small rooms for Senate use. This was not enough, however, to accommodate the Senate's nearly 60 committees and the 12 new members from the six states that had entered the Union in the previous two years. Consequently, as members moved into the new terrace rooms, they also voted to purchase a three-year-old, five-story apartment house.

Located on the corner of New Jersey and Constitution Avenues, the Maltby Building made it possible for every senator to have an office. This greatly irritated House members whose plan to acquire a similar structure on their side of Capitol Hill had fallen through. Why, they asked, should 76 senators have more space collectively than 332 House members? Several suggested, in vain, that the Senate share its Maltby space.

Soon, however, senators began to complain about their new Maltby quarters being stifling in summer, frigid in winter. The building had been constructed on the site of an old stable. Its heaviest component—the elevator shaft—settled seven inches into the underlying mire, carrying with it surrounding walls and floors. The city fire marshal considered the structure a firetrap. Although this deteriorating situation inspired the 1904 legislation for a permanent, fireproof office building, senators had little choice but to remain at Maltby until the new building's completion in 1909.

Reference Items:

U.S. Congress. Senate. History of the United States Capitol: A Chronicle of Design, Construction, and Politics, by William C. Allen. 106th Congress, 2d sess., 2001. S. Doc. 106-29.