McKinley Building

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McKinley Building is the second building constructed on the American University Campus, built in 1907, in north west Washington DC. McKinley was designed by Henry Ives Cobb, well known for his bevy of architectural work in Chicago. McKinley Building is the new home for the School of Communication after renovations were completed in 2014.


Founding and design[edit]

Henry Ives Cobb designs a number of buildings on the American University campus including the future McKinley Building (then called the Ohio Hall of Government).[1]

Excavation commences in 1901 to prepare for a cornerstone laying ceremony in December of that year. The combination of President William McKinley’s assassination on September 14, 1901 and the threat of unfavorable weather conditions delayed the cornerstone laying until 1902.[2] In honor of the role of the late President McKinley both in the world and at the school, the founders of American University decided to change the name of Ohio Hall to The McKinley Memorial-Ohio College of Government. The American University Courier said of the building, “Every footfall in its halls for the years to come would echo the name and fame of the great and honored man in whose memory the building was erected.”[3] On May 14, 1902, 1500 people attend the cornerstone laying of the McKinley Memorial-Ohio College of Government. President Theodore Roosevelt does the honors.[4]


In October 1905, construction commences on McKinley Building. Contractors Richardson & Burgess estimates the building construction cost at $250,000.[5] Exterior construction completed December 11, 1907 with a cost of $145,000.[6] Overall construction is incomplete, with the interior unfinished, and is put on hold due to a lack of funds from American University.

The First World War[edit]

Birthplace of Army Chemical Corps
April 2, 1917 the United States officially declares war on Germany and enters World War I. American University enters into an agreement with the US Government to use the University Campus and the McKinley building for war purposes. Camp American University with acres of barracks is created on campus and the McKinley building is to be turned over to the Bureau of Mines after the interior is completed, renovations which the government pays for. The US modifies and finishes the interior of McKinley Building, creating the chemical weapons lab, one of the biggest in the nation.[7]
The 30th Engineer Regiment (Gas and Flame), later to become 1st Gas Regiment, was activated at Camp American University on August 15, 1917.[8]
Major General WM. L. Sibert expresses gratitude to AU on behalf of the Chemical Warfare Service for the use of the campus during World War I. The Chemical Warfare Service leaves the American University Campus July 1, 1919.[9]

Post War[edit]

The United States Department of Agriculture leases McKinley for the use of the Nitrate Division (which will later become the Fixed Nitrogen Research Laboratory). The Lab, in April of 1920, employed 108 persons to study Nitrogen in the Atmosphere and its potential usage in fertilizer.[10] The Fixed Nitrogen Research Laboratory remained in the McKinley Building until March 15, 1941.
The Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company take over occupation of McKinley. $40,000 worth of renovations are done to he building. C & P Telephone Company occupy the building from October 28, 1941-1954. C & P pays the school some $48,000/yr rental until vacating the premises.

Academic Building[edit]

McKinley is renovated in 1955 and is opened for academic use for the fall 1955 term. The renovations accommodate classrooms and offices and mark the beginning of the building’s use as an academic building, rather than a rental to external parties.
Renovation makes way for The School of Business, The American Language Center, The District Speech Clinic, and The Education Department.


An exploration of the attic chronicled in an article in The Eagle published Nov. 15, 1966 reveals that a portion of the bare, unused space holds “...a maze of telephone wires...” and “...a complex of electronic equipment...”[11] This discovery by the university paper sparks a student-led uproar that carries forward as far as 1970. An article in The Eagle written in September of 1967 quoting the AU Director of Physical Plant clarifies that the receivers are backup Federal Transmitters.[12] An editorial written later in the same paper questions, “what AU’s involvement with the government actually is.” This mistrust eventually leads to the equipment quietly being removed in November of 1967.
April 7, 1970 rocks thrown at McKinley break windows as a rally gets out of hand. A firebomb is thrown into a biology lab but does not go off.[13]


School of Communication[edit]

McKinley is the new home of the American University School of Communication. Groundbreaking for restoration and construction took place in 2012[14] and opened for classes in January 2014.


  1. ^ The University Courier, January 1900, “The American University, the Site, and Plan of Proposed Buildings”, p. 6
  2. ^ The University Courier, December 1901, “Laying of the Corner Stone of the McKinley Memorial”, p. 9
  3. ^ The University Courier, December 1901, “The Ohio College of Government Commenced”, p. 8
  4. ^ The University Courier, June 1902, “An Epoch Making Day,” p. 1
  5. ^ Richardson & Burgess to Henry Ives Cobb, July 30, 1901, American University Special Collections, McKinley Building Collection
  6. ^ Richardson & Burgess to Henry Ives Cobb, December 11, 1907, American University Special Collections, McKinley Building Collection
  7. ^ The University Courier, December, 1917, “McKinley Memorial Building,” p.1
  8. ^ Eldredge, Walter J. Finding My Father's War: A Baby Boomer and the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion in World War II, (Google Books), PageFree Publishing, Inc., 2004, p. 246, (ISBN 1-58961-202-7)
  9. ^ The University Courier, January, 1919, “Letters from General Sibert and Colonel Burrell,” p.7
  10. ^ Lamb, Arthur B., Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, “Fixed Nitrogen Research Laboratory,” p977
  11. ^ The Eagle, Nov. 15, 1966, Vol. 41, #14, “Even Rooms Get Lost,” p. 5
  12. ^ The Eagle, Sep 29, 1967, Vol. 42, #4, “Radios Hidden in McKinley,” p.1
  13. ^ The Eagle, Apr. 10, 1970, Vol. 44, #24, “Vandals Roam Campus, Do $3000 in Damages,” p. 3
  14. ^ Drobis, David R., “The Time is Now,”, Retrieved 2012-03-02