The symbols of USA


Ever since 1886, when her great torch was lifted into place 305 feet above Liberty Island in New York Harbor, the colossal statue of "Liberty Enlightening the World" has symbolized America for millions of eager newcomers. Many wept as they neared the American shore, recalling all they had left behind and apprehensive about what they might find in the new land. But with their first glimpse of the statue, one Italian immigrant recalled, they were "steadied ... by the concreteness of the symbol of America's freedom, and they dried their tears".

The statue was the work of Alsatian sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and was intended to commemorate both a century of amity between France and the United States and the concept of political freedom shared by the two nations.

The book that Liberty holds in her left hand symbolizes the Declaration of Independence. The main figure is attached to an iron framework designed by Gustave Eiffel, builder of France's Eiffel Tower.

The statue was paid for by French contributors; American schoolchildren participated in a nationwide drive to raise funds for the pedestal. On a tablet within are inscribed the last five lines of a sonnet, "The New Colossus", by Emma Lazarus, herself an immigrant:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!


The White House, the official residence of the President, stands in tree-shaded grounds (18 acres) on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue. The main building has 6 floors, with the East Terrace leading to the East Wing, a 3-story building used for offices and as an entrance for official events. The West Terrace contains offices and leads to the Executive Office.

The White House was designed by James Hoban, an Irish-born architect. President Washington chose the site which was included in the plan of the Federal City prepared by Major Pierre L'Enfant.

The cornerstone of the Executive Mansion, as it was originally known, was laid on October 13, 1792, 300 years after the landing of Columbus. President Washington was not present and never lived in the house. It was John Adams, the second President (1797-1801), who arrived in the new Capital City to take up his residence in the White House. On his second evening in its damp, unfinished rooms, he wrote to his wife, "Before I end my letter, I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.

The President's home was the earliest of all government buildings in the District of Columbia. Compared to the huge, glittering palaces used by European and Asian rulers at the time it was built, the White House is a simple, almost unpretentious dwelling place.

On August 24, 1814, during Madison's administration (1809— 1817), the British troops entered Washington and set fire to the White House. By December 1817, James Hoban had completed rebuilding the Executive Mansion, and President Monroe (1817— 1825) moved in.

The British were indirectly responsible for the name "White House". Since the marks of the fire were clearly seen on the sandstone walls, they had to be obliterated by being painted white. But the house remained the "Executive Mansion" until the administration of Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), when the words "White House" appeared and the term became official.

In 1947 President Truman (1945-1953) had a second-floor porch built into the south portico. In 1948 he asked Congress to authorize complete rebuilding because the White House was unsafe.

Reconstruction cost $5,761,000. The interior was completely removed. New underpinning 24 feet deep was placed under the outside walls and steel frame was built to support the interior. All original trim and metal work were preserved.


Old Glory, that proud symbol of America, is the product of a rather haphazard series of events.

After England and Scotland were united in 1603 through the accession to the English throne of James I, the Cross of St. George was superimposed on the Scottish Cross of St. Andrew to form the British Union. The Meteor flag, flown even today by British merchant ships (with Ireland's Cross of St. Patrick added to it), was equally familiar to the colonists, who striped its solid red field to form their Grand Union flag.

So, a precursor of today's flag was the Grand Union flag, which George Washington presented to the Colonial Army on New Year's Day 1776. It still incorporated the British Union flag because the colonists, although they had already fought at Lexington and Concord, had not yet decided to break away entirely from the mother country. No one knows who the designer was.

On June 14, 1777, after independence, the Continental Congress decreed retention of the stripes but replacement of Britain's flag with a "new constellation" of stars symbolizing the united Colonies. The designer of the 1777 flag is also unknown. The only authority for the story that Betsy Ross made it was Betsy's grandson, who first told it in 1870.

The new flag was flown mainly by ships, for identification; it was seldom used on land. But whether on land or sea, its stars — arranged in various ways — were as likely to be blue on white as white on blue and to have eight points as five. Often blue stripes were mingled with the red and white, and in some flags the stripes were vertical. Only the three colours were constant. In 1782 Congress proclaimed that the red stood for hardiness and courage, the white for purity and innocence, and the blue for justice, vigilance, and perseverance.

By 1795 two more stars and stripes had been added, representing the 14th and 15th States. In 1818 Congress returned the number of stripes to 13, for the original Colonies, but it set no pattern for the stars. From then on a new star was added for each new state — on the Fourth of July following the State's accession. The last such Independence Day celebration was in 1960, after Hawaii had become the 50th State.

One popular motif was a single large star outlined by small stars, but the row arrangement became more common and in 1912 was made official.

The Pledge to the Flag

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States

of America and to the Republic for which it stands,

one Nation under God, indivisible,

with liberty and justice for all.


The Library of Congress is the Nation's library. Its services extend not only to Members and committees of the Congress, but to the executive and judicial branches of government, to libraries throughout the Nation and the world, and to the scholars and researchers and artists and scientists who use its resources. This was not always the case. When President John Adams signed the bill that provided for the removal of the seat of government to the new capital city of Washington in 1800, he created a reference library for Congress only. The bill provided, among other items, $5000 "for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress — and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein ...".

The first books were ordered from England and shipped across the Atlantic in 11 hair trunks and a map case. The library was housed in the new Capitol, until August 1814, at which time British troops invaded Washington, and when they put the torch to the Capitol Building, the small Library was lost.

Within a month former President Thomas Jefferson, living in retirement at Monticello, offered as a replacement his personal library, accumulated over a span of 50 years. When in France, Jefferson had spent many afternoons at bookstalls, "turning over every book with my own hands, putting by everything which related to America and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science". His library was considered one of the finest in the United States.

In offering the library to Congress Jefferson wrote, "I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer".

After considerable debate Congress in January 1815 accepted Jefferson's offer, appropriating $23950 for the collection of 6487 books. Thus the foundation was laid for a great national library.

The Library of Congress complex on Capitol Hill includes three buildings. The Thomas Jefferson Building, executed in Italian Renaissance style, is the oldest of these. Heralded as the largest library structure in the world when it was completed in 1897, it is elaborately decorated with splendid sculpture, murals, and mosaics created by 50 American artists. The Main Reading Room houses a collection of 45000 reference books and desks for 250 readers. The adjacent Computer Catalogue Center provides public access to the Library's automated catalogue files through computer terminals.

The simply designed, dignified John Adams Building, faced with white Georgia marble, was opened in 1939. Bas-relief sculptures on its large bronze doors represent 12 historic figures credited with giving the art of writing to their people.

The white marble James Madison Memorial Building, dedicated on April 24, 1980, more than doubled the Library's available Capitol Hill space. Eight reading rooms, offices, and storage areas for the Library's special-format collections number over 70 million items.

Collections of the whole Library include more than 86 million items covering virtually every subject in formats that vary from papyrus to optical disk. These materials stretch along 535 miles of shelves and are being acquired at a rate of 10 items a minute. The Library has 26 million books in 60 languages and more than 36 million manuscripts, among them such treasures of American history and culture as the papers of Presidents, notable families, writers, artists, and scientists.

The Library has the world's largest and most comprehensive cartographic collection — almost 4 million maps and atlases, dating back to the middle of the 14th century — and a 7-million-piece music collection that includes not only paper material, but also Stradivarius instruments.

The Library's 10 million prints and photographs provide a visual record of people, places, and events in the United States and in many foreign countries. Approximately 75000 serial titles are received annually; 1200 newspapers are held in the Library's permanent collections, with some dating back to the 17th century. There are also 80000 motion picture titles, 50000 television broadcasts, 350000 radio transcriptions.


Unlike the glamorous figures of legend and fiction, real cowpokes of the 1870s and 1880s were usually hardy young men who labored long hours, often under wretched conditions, for little pay, in a bone-jarring, dangerous occupation.

One of the riskiest and most strenuous jobs began with the autumn or spring roundup. The cowboys brought the longhorns in from their breeding grounds on the Texas range, counted them, and burned a mark on the calves born during the year. Examples of the brands appear on the map, which also shows the four major trails over which the cattle were herded north from Texas to railhead towns such as Cheyenne, Abilene, or Kansas City. From there they were shipped to stock-yards.

The herds the cowboys drove to shipping centers might number several thousand and stretch out almost as far as the eye could see. The trails were a gauntlet of hazards for men and beast alike — Indians, swirling rivers, snow, drought. The drive was an endurance test that meant dusty weeks in the saddle with very little sleep and "bacon and beans most every day".

Turn-of-the-century dime novels and, later, Hollywood movies and television made the cowboy probably the most misrepresented and misunderstood worker of all time. Cowboys themselves fed the mythology. A mayor of Dodge City, the cowboy's capital, remarked that they "delight in appearing rougher than they are". And still, there were cases when cowboys indulged in one of their pastimes — "cleaning the city". They behaved badly, shooting in the air, joking and shouting profane greetings to fellow cowboys, who behaved the same way. A merchant in Abilene described his town in 1871 as a "seething, roaring, flaming hell"; and in Dodge City, 25 men were said to be killed during the town's first year.

Some cowboys were sturdy and dependable; others were cowardly, dishonest, and cruel to their animal wards. Their bosses often treated them with contempt. The $100 that a cowhand earned for driving 1000 cattle for 3 months might be spent in one spree on the gambling, the rot-gut whisky, and bad company awaiting them in the cow towns at the end of the trail. Nonetheless, the cowboys labors supplied the growing Nation with beef and helped settle one of America's last frontiers.


The most revolutionary development in 19th-century architecture — the skyscraper — has sometimes been called the American solution. It was not the invention of any single person. It simply evolved in response to changing circumstances. Cities were growing at an alarming rate. Businesses were becoming big businesses that needed ever larger buildings to house their administrative staffs. New inventions — the telephone, the typewriter, the electric light, and, most important, the elevator — contributed to the efficiency of accommodating more people in larger structures.

But as more and more companies sought building sites in the larger cities, real estate prices skyrocketed, forcing builders to build up instead of out. So while New York City, for example, had few buildings of more than 5 floors in 1865, its skyline boasted several structures reaching 9 and 10 stories just a decade later.

The breakthrough came in Chicago in the 1880s. In the building boom that followed the fire of 1871, a group of architects now known as the Chicago school began experimenting with new techniques. Their greatest discovery was that iron beams could be joined to form a building's entire framework. With this "metal cage" construction, the iron or, later, the steel skeleton held the building up.

The progress from the first efforts of the Chicago architects to the sleek new skyscrapers of today was steady but slow. Better glass, improved concrete, and other technological advances all played a role in enabling architects to design taller and taller buildings. The result is universally acknowledged as a fitting symbol of American vigor and ingenuity — impressive urban skylines of elegant towers reaching ever higher.

The most influential of Chicago architects was Louis H. Sullivan. A restless genius who formulated a highly personal and purely American style. He was a pioneer of the modern movement in his profession and established a secure reputation as one of the most creative minds in the history of American architecture.

If a structure must be tall, it should be made to look tall — a principle that was brilliantly realized in Sullivan's Wainwright Building in St. Louis, considered by some to be America's first successful skyscraper.

Although it no longer seems like a skyscraper, Sullivan's Wainwright Building towered its neighbours in 1891. The buildings that followed grew taller but returned to the older historical style. For example, the Woolworth Building is lavishly Gothic. The depressed economy of the 1930s required a more austere style and also halted the race for the tallest building— a title held by the Chrysler Building very briefly until completion of the Empire State Building, which reigned supreme for the next 40 years.

In the 1940s and 1950s tall buildings became common, but they were usually no more than about 60 stories high.

Technology makes mile-high structures possible, but the advantages are questionable.