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14 Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About the Pentagon

The Pentagon is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. Learn how it got its unique shape and other incredible details about this storied structure.

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Close up of military medals, ribbons, and neck scarves worn by U.S. Navy personnel at the re-enlistment and promotion ceremony on National September 11 Memorial site. Fleet Week, NEW YORK MAY 26 2017
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It’s the home office of the brave

The Pentagon serves as the headquarters of the Department of Defense, which oversees all branches of the U.S. military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. The DOD’s mission is “to provide a lethal Joint Force to defend the security of our country and sustain American influence abroad.”

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USA. WASHINGTON, DC NOVEMBER - 24, 2016: The Pentagon building, headquarters for the United States Department of Defense.

The origin story

The Department of Defense was originally called the War Department, and in 1941, it had 24,000 employees spread out across 17 buildings in Washington, D.C. As Hitler’s army marched through Europe, Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt the need to consolidate command of America’s armed forces in a single headquarters. The result? The Pentagon. While the plan for the Pentagon was fairly transparent, here are 10 secrets operations the U.S. government didn’t want anyone to know.

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WASHINGTON DC, USA - AUGUST 8, 2016: The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defenses one of the world's largest office buildings designed by architect George Bergstrom
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It’s quite big

The Pentagon contains more than 6.6 million square feet of floor space, making it one of the largest buildings in the world. To put that into perspective, it has three times the floor space of the Empire State Building.

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View of the grounds showing parked cars around the Pentagon building (in background) in Arlington, Virginia on
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And it needs the space

According to the official Pentagon tours website, 26,000 employees, both military and civilian, work there, which is why it needs 16 parking lots to handle 8,770 commuter cars. In addition, more than 106,000 tourists visit the Pentagon every year.

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USA. WASHINGTON, DC NOVEMBER - 24, 2016: The Pentagon building, headquarters for the United States Department of Defense.

A lay-down of the layout

The Pentagon is five stories tall (with two basement levels) and is made up of five internal rings, intersected by 10 corridors. From the center out, these rings are named “A” through “E” (with “F” and “G” in the basement). There are 131 stairways, 19 escalators, and 70 elevators needed to navigate all of the floors.

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USA. WASHINGTON, DC NOVEMBER - 24, 2016: The Pentagon building, headquarters for the United States Department of Defense.

Walking through it is like a marathon

The total walking distance of the building is about 17.5 miles, but if you speed-walk through the center courtyard, you can move between the building’s furthest points in under ten minutes. The DOD also provides workers with motorized scooters that cruise along at three miles per hour. Check out these words and phrases that originated in the military.

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Aerial View of Pentagon and United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia
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Why is it a pentagon?

The Pentagon is shaped like it is because head architect G. Edwin Bergstrom was required to fit the building in between existing roads at the original site, and a five-sided, asymmetrical design was the only way to do that. The building also needed to remain relatively low due to the scarcity of steel caused by World War II and to prevent it from blocking the views of Washington, D.C. After protests erupted about its proximity to Arlington National Cemetery, the construction site was moved to its current location, but Bergstrom stuck with the five-sided shape to prevent delaying construction.

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This is a 1942 photo of the early construction of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The groundbreaking ceremony took place on . The building was dedicated on January 15, 1943, nearly 16 months to the day after the groundbreaking

It went up fast

The Pentagon was built at a mindboggling speed. The building was officially opened on January 14, 1943, having broken ground less than two years prior. Don’t miss these 18 facts you never knew about Washington, D.C.

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General view of the court in the Pentagon Building in Washington, showing the restaurant surrounded by umbrella covered tables where employees enjoy outdoor lunches

Its employees are well-fed

All that walking around can get a person hungry. Luckily, there are a number of food options at the Pentagon, including five different food courts that have outposts of almost every fast food restaurant you can think of: Baskin Robbins, Subway, KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Popeyes—and of course, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks to keep everyone well caffeinated.

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Street stall to sell hot dogs. Customer holding a hot dog purchased.
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It’s home to…the world’s most dangerous hotdog stand?

At the center of the Pentagon is a five-acre park that houses a now-closed hot dog stand. “Rumor has it that during the Cold War, the Russians never had any less than two missiles aimed at this hot dog stand,” DOD Communications Officer Brett Eaton told the Stars and Stripes in 2010. “They thought this was the Pentagon’s most top-secret meeting room, and the entire Pentagon was a large fortress built around this hot dog stand. They thought the officers were going to get their top-secret briefings in a protected area, but really they were just going to get lunch.” Don’t miss these hilarious code names the military actually used.

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U.S. Marshals carrying night sticks and helmets arrive at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., . The marshals were ordered to the Pentagon, along with miltary personnel and police, for duty during a planned anti-war demonstration later in the day
John Rous/Shutterstock

No, it can’t fly

On October 21, 1967, 35,000 Vietnam War protestors marched to the Pentagon, with their announced intention of surrounding the building and levitating it. They were unable to get the building off the ground, as you might imagine.

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The symbol of lady's room
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It has seen domestic terrorism

In May 1972, Weather Underground, a radical group that carried out domestic bombings as a form of protest, placed a bomb in a women’s restroom at the Pentagon. The bomb’s explosion resulted in some structural damage to the building, but no one was harmed. Here are 12 government conspiracy theories that turned out to be true.

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Its connection to September 11

Construction began on September 11, 1941—exactly 60 years before the 9/11 terrorist attacks that sent American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon. The plane’s impact smashed through the first floor of three of the Pentagon’s rings and caused a fire that took 36 hours to extinguish. The lives of 184 people were lost at the Pentagon on that awful day, including 120 Pentagon employees.

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WASHINGTON DC - CIRCA JUNE 2009: Pentagon memorial circa June 2009 in Washington DC, USA. Permanent outdoor memorial to people killed in building and in Flight 77 in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

How it remembers 9/11

On September 11, 2008, a 9/11 memorial was opened to the public at the Pentagon. It includes 184 illuminated benches, one for each of the Pentagon employees, flight passengers, and crew members who lost their lives. The Pentagon also has the Hall of Heroes, a room dedicated to recipients of the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor in action that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.

Joe McKinley
Joe McKinley is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest, covering cars, careers, tech and more.