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9 Facts About The Pentagon Every American Should Know

Without a doubt, the Pentagon is one of the most famous buildings in the world, where the headquarters of the Department of Defense is located. The Department of Defense of America oversees all the existing branches of the U.S. military: the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and, of course, the Coast Guard.

The principal mission of the DOD is “to provide a lethal Joint Force that’s meant to defend the security of our beloved country and sustain American influence all over the world.” If you’re curious to know more about this particular building, we’ve made a list of things we bet you never knew:

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The Pentagon was the second complex built especially for the military during FDR’s presidency

Back in the 1930s, a huge complex was about to be built in Washington’s D.C. foggy neighborhood. It was expected to be the home of the U.S. War Department. However, before it was even finished, the army already decided that it was too small for its needs (now, the building is the home of the U.S. State Department).

And since the ranks of the War Department kept on swelling, they started to branch out all over the city, and eventually, they found housing in no less than 17 different buildings.

It has these unique shapes mainly because of a different planned location

Many cities were taken into consideration for the next big military complex. They originally went for a sprawling stretch of land that was located east of Arlington Cemetery. The land was originally owned by Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Back then, the track was fully managed by the Department of Agriculture, which had a project with an experimental farm on the land. Arlington Farms was bound by access roads, which eventually formed a slightly irregular pentagon shape.

However, the idea of needing Arlington Farms was soon abandoned, because they had concerns regarding the sensitivity of placing a military complex in the proximity of the nation’s most hallowed ground.

So President Roosevelt decided on another site that was once the home of the Hoover Field, which was the first airport to service the Washington, D.C. area. It was far too late to start a brand new design, so they got stuck with the pentagon shape.

There are a couple of reasons why this building is so short

One of Somervell’s wishes was that the massive building shouldn’t be taller than five stories. This was mainly decided upon after ongoing concerns over disrupting the scenic landscape from the Virginia site and Washington, D.C.

There was also another practical reason behind this: there was a steel shortage at those times. So instead of steel, the building was mainly built of reinforced concrete. To be more specific, there were 435,000 cubic yards of it. Even more, the filler for this concrete was dredged from the grounds around the building, the Potomac River included.

The Pentagon was built on the land that was occupied by the descendants of former slaves

In the Civil War, there was a particular settlement known as Freedman’s Village that was built on Robert E. Lee’s former estate, after escaped slaves managed to find their way from the non-Union-held territory.

Well, twenty years later, these settlements were rather uprooted, and many black neighborhoods, Queen City and the seedier, red-light district of Hell’s Bottom included, became known as East Arlington. When the Pentagon’s planners came to the realization that the original site that was chosen for the massive complex wasn’t big enough, the government didn’t waste a minute, deciding to evict over 150 families from East Arlington and use their land.

Photo by Ritu Manoj Jethani from Shutterstock

The same person was in charge of both the Manhattan Project and the Pentagon’s construction

Somervell was responsible for the Pentagon project, but it eventually fell to one of his trusted subordinates, who was then known as Major Leslie Groves, to build it. Groves had to oversee the day-to-day construction on site, and he successfully managed to deal with many strikes, but also with all the strong-willed military figures that were exerting pressure on him to complete the project before the initial term.

AT THE SAME TIME, Groves was in charge of the well-known Manhattan Project, which was one of the first successful efforts meant to develop the world’s first atomic bomb.

There are more bathrooms than one can use

During those times, America was still extremely segregated, so the planners of the Pentagon project found fit to design the building with completely separate facilities for black and white employees, which even included “white” and “black” cafeterias for all construction crews, alongside 284 bathrooms, which is twice the number that was actually needed for the anticipated staff levels.

Even so, in June 1941, President Roosevelt finally issued Executive Order 8802, which forbade segregation among federal employees. Initially, Virginia authorities decided to continue the regulations that were established in its Jim Crow-era Separation of Races law, insisting that the facilities need to be segregated, before ceding full control of the Pentagon to the federal government.

Since its inauguration, all facilities were completely open to both black and white employees, which made the Pentagon the only non-segregated building in Virginia for quite some time.

Photo by Konstantin L from Shutterstock

The building went up sooner than expected

The groundbreaking ceremony took place on September 11, 1941, and work rapidly got underway, with over 15,000 workers on-site around the clock. There were so many demands for the office spaces, that the first workers decided to move in before the complex was completed, and lots of employees had to work in offices without walls, and travel around the complex on wooden planks laid across all open construction pits.

Ultimately, they finished the construction on January 15, 1943. It has been estimated that the construction should have normally taken at least four years. Well, the Pentagon was built in 16 months. However, it cost a lot of money: as the project was initially budgeted at $35 million, it ended up costing $63 million.

It’s a bit difficult to understand exactly how big the Pentagon is

As a matter of fact, the U.S. Capitol could easily fit into one of the building’s five pieces. Plus, the Pentagon is twice the office space of the Empire State Building. When Dwight Eisenhower was invested as army chief of staff, after WWII ended, he immediately got lost in the complex.

He had to ask a group of stenographers for more directions back to his office. While it’s highly possible to get from the furthest points in only 10 minutes, you need to know the shortcut through the open courtyard at the center of the complex. Besides, you have to walk at a fast pace, so for those unable to walk on their own, the Department of Defense decided to offer a fleet of scooters, which are allowed to zip around at 3 mph.

The 9/11 attacks took place on the 60th anniversary of the groundbreaking

As you probably guess, on September 11, 2001, when the Pentagon got hit in its east side by American Airlines Flight 77, it was its 60th anniversary. On that day, 200 people lost their lives. However, thanks to the recently installed security improvements, many lives were saved.

Soon enough, they started planning for an extensive reconstruction program, known as the Phoenix Project, which was finished in February 2003, and it cost five times more than the price of the original building.

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