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The Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia, USA

The Pentagon [photo: Touch Of Light / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
The Pentagon [photo: Touch Of Light / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

The Pentagon

It is twice the size of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, and has three times the floor space of the Empire State Building in New York. The National Capitol could fit into any one of the five wedge-shaped sections. There are very few people throughout the United States who do not have some knowledge of the Pentagon. Construction began on September 11th, 1941 ! The first employees moved in on April 29th, 1942, and the construction was completed on January 15th, 1943.

On September 11, 2001, the Pentagon was target of a terrorist attack – at the same time the World Trade Center in New York was attacked by terrorists who flew two commercial airliners into the building that later collapsed.

The Pentagon is virtually a city in itself. Approximately 23,000 employees, both military and civilian, contribute to the planning and execution of the defense of our country. These people arrive daily from Washington, D.C. and its suburbs over approximately 30 miles of access highways, including express bus lanes and one of the newest subway systems in our country. They ride past 200 acres of lawn to park approximately 8,770 cars in 16 parking lots; climb 131 stairways or ride 19 escalators to reach offices that occupy 3,705,793 square feet. While in the building, they tell time by 4,200 clocks, drink from 691 water fountains, utilize 284 rest rooms, consume 4,500 cups of coffee, 1,700 pints of milk and 6,800 soft drinks prepared or served by a restaurant staff of 230 persons and dispensed in 1 dining room, 2 cafeterias, 6 snack bars, and an outdoor snack bar. The restaurant service is a privately run civilian operation under contract to the Pentagon. Over 200,000 telephone calls are made daily through phones connected by 100,000 miles of telephone cable. The Defense Post Office handles about 1,200,000 pieces of mail monthly. Various libraries support our personnel in research and completion of their work. The Army Library alone provides 300,000 publications and 1,700 periodicals in various languages.

Built during the early years of World War II, it is still thought of as one of the most efficient office buildings in the world. Despite 17.5 miles of corridors it takes only seven minutes to walk between any two points in the building.

The original site was nothing more than wasteland, swamps and dumps. 5.5 million cubic yards of earth, and 41,492 concrete piles contributed to the foundation of the building. Additionally, 680,000 tons of sand and gravel, dredged from the nearby Potomac River, were processed into 435,000 cubic yards of concrete and molded into the Pentagon form. The building was constructed in the remarkably short time of 16 months and completed on January 15, 1943 at an approximate cost of $83 million. It consolidated 17 buildings of the War Department and returned its investment within seven years.

Located at the Ceremonial Entrance to Arlington National Cemetery.

History of the Pentagon

During the late 1930’s and early 1940’s the War Department consolidated its many temporary and permanent offices scattered throughout the District, Maryland and Virginia.

The historic lands of the Washington, Custis and Lee families provided the necessary space. The first project was the construction of Federal Building No.2, also known as the Defense Department Arlington Annex and the “Naval Annex.” This building, located up the hill from the Pentagon, had over one million square feet of space and a capacity for 7,000 employees and was originally occupied by several divisions of the Navy. On the former Syphax property, Henderson Hall housed a barracks and headquarters for the Marine Corps. The large acreage once occupied by Arlington Hall junior college became a highly classified military post. Fort Myer’s south post was established on the former land of the Arlington Experimental Farm, and the new War Department Building – ultimately known as the Pentagon – began construction.

The first site to be considered for the Pentagon’s massive building was the 200-acre tract of the Arlington Experimental Farm. Scheduled to be turned over by the Department of Agriculture to the Arlington National Cemetery, the National Capital Parks and Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts wanted that area preserved for parks, the Cemetery expansion and an unobstructed gateway to Washington, D.C. However, recently constructed bridges and highways provided great access, and the entire river lowland area of Arlington between the Fourteenth Street Bridge and the National Cemetery came under extensive development pressure. When the relocation of the old Washington Municipal Airport freed up its land, the five roads bordering the site confined the building to this shape.

While the final site had more flexibility, the building retained the original five-sided design. As the sounds of war grew louder, Congress appropriated $35 million for construction of the War Building. At the end of this period of Federal expansion, U.S. Government holdings accounted for 18% of Arlington County’s total geographic area.

The assignment to plan and build the new War Department building was given to General Brehon Somervell, chief of construction in the Army’s Quartermaster Corps. Work began by moving six million cubic yards of earth onto the site, and then sinking more than 41,000 concrete piles to stabilize the foundations. Built entirely of concrete to conserve steel and faced with Indiana limestone, the building has five sides and is three stories high. Working around the clock, a force of thirteen thousand workers completed the construction in sixteen months.

The first occupants moved into the building in April 1942, and the building and its outside facilities were finished in January 1943. Its interior traffic flows horizontally instead of vertically, with elevators as found in high-rise office structures. Using its rings, radial corridors and escalators, no two offices are more than 1,800 feet apart, about a 6.5 minute walk. The Pentagon is the world’s largest office building, containing 6.5 million square feet of space. At the time of its heaviest use in World War II, 37,000 employees worked in the Pentagon.

Military Women’s Corridor

At the Pentagon, you’ll find the Military Women’s Corridor, a corridor of the Pentagon devoted to the women who fought and assisted the military during our nation’s wars. A replica of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, biographies and personal belongings contribute to the exhibit.

Special attention is given to Dr. Mary E. Walker and Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. Walker, a Civil War battlefield surgeon, is the only woman recipient of the Medal of Honor. Among many other accomplishments, Hopper is recognized as the computer genius and mathematician who created the COBOL computer language.

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