History of the House

The Meeting of Congress–Hall of Representatives, Harper's Weekly, 1857 wood engraving

The history of the U.S. House of Representatives is, in many ways, the history of America. It is a story of accomplishment, struggle, and compromise on the path to a more perfect union.

In 1789, the House assembled for the first time in New York. It moved to Philadelphia in 1790 and then to Washington, DC, in 1800. In 1807, the House moved into the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, four years before the Capitol’s House wing was fully completed. In 1814, the House and the nation were severely tested when invading British forces burned the Capitol. It would be another five years before the House’s chambers were fully restored. In 1857, the House met for the first time in its present-day chambers.

In the decades since it first convened, the House has passed into law many pieces of legislation with profound effects on the American way of life. Examples range from funding approval for the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1803 and the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery in 1865, to the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women’s right to vote in 1919 and the Clean Water Act in 1972.

Just as the laws it has passed reflect the country’s evolution, so too does the makeup of the House itself. The House’s first African-American member was elected in 1870. The first Hispanic member took office in 1877, the first woman member in 1917, the first Asian-American member in 1957, and the first African-American woman member in 1969. In 2007, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California was elected as the first woman Speaker of the House.

In recent decades, technology has altered the way the House does business. Electronic voting began in 1973, and live television broadcasts of floor proceedings began in 1979. In 2010, House members were first allowed to bring wireless electronic devices on the House floor, and the Clerk launched HouseLive, streaming video of live and archived House floor proceedings.

For more House history, including Congress overviews, interactive timelines, biographical information, and research resources, visit the Clerk’s Art & History website.