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Published: April 29, 2016
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National Building Museum celebrates Montgomery Meigs’ 200th Birthday

Special tours, objects on view, and a party commemorate Pension Building’s architect

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On Tuesday, May 3, the National Building Museum celebrates the 200th birthday of General Montgomery Cunningham Meigs, the former quartermaster general of the U.S. Army and architect of the Pension Building, which later became the Museum’s home. Commemorating the anniversary will be a week-long series of events, including special tours, new objects from his life on display, and a drop-in birthday party.

Meigs was born on May 3, 1816 in Augusta, Georgia, and raised for the most part in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He trained in civil engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before being assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers in 1837. He was called to Washington, D.C. in 1852, and he quickly proved himself an indispensable asset to the city’s development, with involvement in the Washington Aqueduct, the Capitol extension and its new dome, and the U.S. General Post Office Extension.

When the Civil War began, President Abraham Lincoln named him Quartermaster General. He was responsible for transporting and outfitting Union soldiers with vital supplies. His involvement at critical points in the war helped turn the tide in favor of the Union. Further, in 1864, Meigs appropriated 200 acres of Robert E. Lee’s former Arlington estate for Arlington National Cemetery.

Before he retired in 1882, Congress asked Meigs to site, design, and construct a brick and metal fireproof building for the Pension Bureau, sorely needed to handle the drastic increase of veterans’ needs. Drawing inspiration from Italian travels and incorporating Civil War commemoration, Meigs designed what would become a National Historic Landmark and the National Building Museum. Finished in 1887, the building was then the largest brick construction in the world, and still boasts some of the tallest known columns. The work ended up being Meigs’ last and most important architectural undertaking.

To celebrate and remember his contribution, in Cool & Collected: Recent Acquisitions, a coffee and tea service presented to Meigs in 1859 will now be on view. The sterling silver service was a gift from the men under his supervision at the U.S. Capitol and the General Post Office where he was superintendent of construction during building expansion projects.

The Museum will also offer special Meigs-focused historic building tours from May 1-7 at 12:30 pm each day. These free tours will highlight the unique details Meigs put into the building and the quirky ways he left his mark on the city.

The week-long celebration culminates with a drop-in, all ages “Cupcakes and Coloring” party on Saturday, May 7 from 11 am–1 pm. Celebrate the colorful character of Meigs and create your own artistic tribute, along with a few renditions of “Happy Birthday.”

The celebration will be tracked on social media and we encourage visitors to share their photos of the Museum, other Meigs projects, or our life-size Meigs cutout, with #HappyBirthdayMeigs.

Contact Brett Rodgers, brodgers@nbm.org, 202.272.2448, ext. 3109.

The National Building Museum is America’s leading cultural institution dedicated to advancing the quality of the built environment by educating people about its impact on their lives. Through its exhibitions, educational programs, online content, and publications, the Museum has become a vital forum for the exchange of ideas and information about the world we build for ourselves. Public inquiries: 202.272.2448 or visit www.nbm.org. Connect with us on Twitter: @BuildingMuseum and Facebook.

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