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General Information

The Pentagon, headquarters of the national defense establishment and the nerve center for command and control, is virtually a city within itself. The Pentagon presently houses approximately 26,000 military and civilian employees and about 3,000 non-defense support personnel dedicated to protecting our national interests.

The Pentagon—a building, institution, and symbol—was conceived at the request of Brigadier General Brehon B. Sommervell, Chief of the Construction Division of the Office of the Quartermaster General, on a weekend in mid-July 1941. The purpose was to provide a temporary solution to the War Department’s critical shortage of space. The rapidly expanding War Department envisioned a single structure in which to house all its components, as opposed to constructing multiple temporary structures as was then the practice. Congress, cautious about the size of the expenditure and the enormity of the project, but anxious about events in Europe and the Far East that could require U.S. military intervention, appropriated the funds necessary to construct the War Department’s new home (approximately $83 million) on August 14, 1941. The groundbreaking ceremony took place on September 11, 1941.

The original site chosen for the Pentagon was a tract of land known as Arlington Farms. The site was bordered by five roadways thus dictating the concept of a pentagonal shaped building. Fearing the enormous building would interfere with the view of Washington, D.C. from Arlington Cemetery, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt directed the building be moved three quarters of a mile down river. The new location chosen was at the site of the old Hoover Airport, a brick factory, a pickle factory, a race track, and a low-income residential area known as Hell’s Bottom. On this site, the final design concept of an open air court surrounded by five concentric pentagonal rings (or corridors) traversed by ten spoke-like corridors was constructed.

The architectural style of the Pentagon is Stripped Neo-Classical. The building was constructed out of reinforced concrete made from 380,000 tons of sand dredged from the Potomac River and supported by 41,492 concrete piles. The designers’ ingenuity not only created a building that reflected the architectural style of the nation’s Capitol but also saved enough steel to build one battleship. At the height of construction, over 1,000 architects worked in an adjacent hanger producing enough prints to supply the 14,000 construction workers and tradesmen. Three shifts worked 24 hours a day, every day, constructing the Pentagon wedge by wedge. These wedges were occupied as they came on-line. The building was dedicated on January 15, 1943, nearly 16 months to the day after the groundbreaking.

The Pentagon sits on 34 acres of land including the five acre center court, making a footprint large enough to accommodate five Capitol buildings. The Pentagon has 6,500,000 gross square feet of space, 7,754 windows, and 17 1/2 miles of corridor. In spite of the building’s tremendous size, it takes only seven minutes to walk between any two points of the building because of its unique design.