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The Senate Chamber, 1859-2009

U.S. Senate Collection

1859 Senate Chamber

On January 4, 1859, sixty-six senators representing thirty-three states moved in procession into a large and beautiful Chamber, the centerpiece of a new Senate wing built in the 1850s.

110th Class Photo
U.S. Senate Photographic Studio

110th Congress

Since 1789, when just twenty-two senators convened the first Senate, the number of senators had tripled as new states joined the Union and the Senate's old Chamber became crowded, noisy, and worn. News accounts of the event noted the solemn procession, the "finely proportioned" Chamber, and the colorful stained-glass ceiling. Spacious galleries accommodated up to 600 visitors and dignitaries. The Senate had a new home—a Chamber that would witness many historic debates, producing legislation that would reshape the nation.

Over the past 150 years, the Senate Chamber has undergone many changes. By the 1930s, age and decay threatened collapse of the old glass-paneled ceiling, and the Chamber's lighting and ventilation system needed modernizing. A mid-20th century renovation brought upgraded amenities and a clean, contemporary design. Cosmetic improvements in the 1980s provided a telegenic background as C-SPAN coverage of Senate proceedings began in 1986. Today, the Senate Chamber is a blend of old and new—of traditional and modern. It is a place where 19th-century mahogany desks and snuff boxes coexist with the computers and television cameras of the modern age.