Since the Senate moved into its current chamber in 1859, it has gone through a series of carpets. Some seem ostentatious by modern standards, but all reflect the tastes at the time of installation.
See the full story on the current restoration of the Senate chamber.
The Office of the Senate Curator is undertaking a long-term project to archive each carpet design the Senate chamber has seen through the years, combing through old paintings, photos, and newspaper accounts.(Cory Bennett)
In the Senate curator's office, rows of file cabinets preserve information on generations of historic artifacts from the Senate chambers. While this cabinet contains information on carpets and rugs, others range from historic furniture to mirrors.(Cory Bennett)
On the wall is the curator's mission statement, which reads, in part, "The Office collects, preserves, and interprets the Senate’s fine and decorative arts, historic objects, and specific architectural features."(Cory Bennett)
In 1976, the Senate Curator's office made a reproduction of a carpet from the old Senate chamber based on contemporary accounts. The solid red carpet patterned with gold stars represented a much simpler design than the Victorian era Senate carpets would bring. (this caption has been updated to reflect new information)(Cory Bennett)
This is a close-up of a portrait of Sen. William Seward done by Emanuel Leutze in 1859. Leutze depicts Seward sitting in the new Senate chamber. It is perhaps the only portrait featuring the original Senate chamber carpet. The carpet was said to have deep purple hues, and the floral pattern reflected the 19th-century Victorian-era styles.(Cory Bennett)
For many years, photography was not allowed inside the Senate chamber. But before the massive redesign of the Senate chamber in 1950, there was one photo taken of the interior by Theodor Horydczak, the first color photograph of the Senate chamber. Seen here are the ornate columns that were toned down in 1950. Eventually, the recessed panels along the walls were replaced with the blue panels. The curator's office was not sure how long this particular green carpet was in place.(Library of Congress)
Hanging in the hallway outside the Senate curator's office are four side-by-side examples of Senate carpets from the 1960s to the present. Clockwise from the upper left are carpet samples from 1976, the 1960s, the 1970s, and the current design.(Cory Bennett)
The curator's office is attempting to collect carpet samples from each carpet pattern. Pictured are visibly worn samples from the 1960s (left) and the 1970s (right).(Cory Bennett)
The 1960s featured busy, colorful carpet designs in the Senate chamber.(Cory Bennett)
Small flowers dot this carpet sample from the 1960s.(Cory Bennett)
This carpet sample from the 1970s is a bit more abstract.(Cory Bennett)
Close up, this 1970s carpet sample doesn't look much more coherent.(Cory Bennett)
The 1970s had several variations on a similar theme. This carpet sample is nearly identical to the previous one, yet injects a good deal of black in the background.(Cory Bennett)
Since the 1980s, the Senate has maintained the same design, opting for a royal blue background checkered with small gold crosslets and red curls around concentric white and gold diamonds.(Cory Bennett)