Mission & History


Discover the heart of American history with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society! Since 1962, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society has proudly worked to preserve and share the history of the Capitol, the Congress, and the people who work therein. As a nonpartisan, educational 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the Society was chartered by Congress in 1978, in part, “to foster and increase an informed patriotism.”

Here is how we fulfill our mission:

  • Historical Tours: The Society conducts historical tours of the U.S. Capitol Building to educate the public about its history and significance. Society tours are led by our historically trained guides, including former congressional staff and Members of Congress, who offer insider knowledge and personalized, in-depth explorations of the Capitol’s history and significance.
  • Public History Programming: The Society hosts a variety of public history programs, both in-person and virtual, to engage the public in learning about the Capitol’s history and its role in American governance.
  • Scholarly Research: We publish scholarly research on various aspects of Capitol history, contributing to the academic understanding of this important institution.
  • Support for Public Education: We manage a civics education field trip program for D.C. Title I public school students, helping to educate the next generation about their government and democracy.
  • Online Civic Education Resource Hub: The Society coordinates an open-access civics education digital resource hub, making educational materials and primary historical resources accessible to teachers.
  • Preserving Capitol History: The Society is involved in the enhancement and preservation of the Capitol’s collection of art and artifacts. Preserving these items is essential for maintaining a connection to the past and for scholarly research. The Society also commissions works of fine art for the Capitol collections, adding to the cultural and historical value of the Capitol.
  • Congressional Engagement: The Society offers assistance to Congressional Offices and Members of Congress, which includes support in matters related to history, research, and educational outreach.
Mission & History: Capitol Dome
Part of the mission of the Society is to promote an informed patriotism

To sustain our work, the Society relies on the support of individuals, corporations, grants, and the sale of educational materials, including books, calendars, memorabilia, videos, and academic publications. This financial support is crucial for maintaining educational initiatives.

Governed by an executive committee drawn from the active board of trustees members, many of whom have been involved with the Capitol, the Society also receives advice and support from its honorary board. Past board members assist the Society through our Emeritus Board.

The U.S. Capitol Historical Society is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, tax-exempt, educational 501(c)3 organization.

Mission & History: Fred Schwengal
Congressman Fred Schwengel (pictured giving a tour) founded the Society in 1962

The United States Capitol Historical Society was organized in 1962 to study and interpret to the public the rich heritage of the Capitol building and the United States Congress. It is the only private non-profit educational organization dedicated solely to recording the history of the building and Congress, which serves as the instrument by which the American people govern themselves.

Active in the founding of the Society in 1962 were the bi-partisan leadership of the Congress, respected historians, other interested citizens and the catalyst and first Society President, Fred Schwengel, then a Congressman from Iowa. All incumbent Members of Congress are honorary members of the Society. In 1978, the responsibilities of the Society were greatly expanded when it was chartered by Congress. Another important duty that emanated from the 1968 Visitor Center Act was the operation of the visitor center in the Capitol where the Society provides information and historical literature and other items for sale to visitors to the Capitol.

The Society, with the support of the National Geographic Society, originated early in its history its first and most successful historical publication: We the People, the Story of the United States Capitol. Now in its 15th edition, more than five million copies of this informative and popular history have been sold in six languages. Soon after, in 1968, the Society published its first “We the People” historical calendar. In recent years the Society’s calendar has been seen in every part of the world and its distribution reached one million copies annually.

As the Society conceived additional projects and programs to further research the history of the Capitol and Congress, its publication program grew to include a guidebook to the Capital city, Washington Past and Present. Symposia are held that contribute to its nationally respected academic series of scholarly publications.

In 1975, the Society entered the visual media field, producing the video/film, “City Out of Wilderness” (updated in 1991) and in 1988 the video/film “A Place of Resounding Deeds.” These historical tours of the Capitol and Washington have been acclaimed by national educational associations and elementary and secondary teachers for their educational value.

The Society and its Board of Trustees realize the great need for providing factual information and insight into the history of the nation to both young and old. It promotes an informed body of citizens able to recognize the blessing that is America’s representative system of government, the sacrifice that has brought it about and the legacy of past generations who have preserved and carried it forward. In the words of former Society President Clarence J. Brown, “The mission of the Society is to research and interpret the history of the Capitol, the institutions and people who have served in it, and to preserve and enhance its beauty by providing art and artifacts for its embellishment.”


Mission & History: Congressional Charter
Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill signed the Society’s Congressional charter in 1978
The passage of HR-11035 in the 95th Congress, later Public Law 95-493, chartered the United States Capitol Historical Society. Read the text of the charter below:

“Hear ye, Hear ye, The Congress of the United States passed HR-11035 by unanimous vote now known as Public Law No. 95-493; 95th Congress. On October 20, 1978 the President of the United States signed this Act as a Public Law giving the United States Capitol Historical Society a Congressional Charter with certain and important authorities to preserve and improve the Capitol, research, publish, create items, medals, and material of historical interest and to cooperate with congressional committees and federal agencies in the work of the Society and the distribution of its products.”