The Real Reason The Pentagon Has So Many Bathrooms

The Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, is a remarkable feat of architectural design and structural engineering. The Department of Defense calls it "the world's largest low-rise office building" — 6.5 million square feet of office space and 17.5 miles of corridors. Built during World War II as a home for the War Department, it's just five stories high (with two additional stories below-ground), in part to conserve steel needed for the war effort. (History tells us that some 435,000 cubic yards of reinforced concrete were used instead.) The man overseeing the project, Army Col. Leslie Groves, went on to run the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico — which gave the world the atomic bomb.

The Pentagon was one of the targets hit by terrorists on September 11, 2001; 189 people died that day. The section hit by the skyjackers had recently been renovated, and improvements to that part of the building helped contain damage; relatively few of those who would ordinarily occupy the space had returned to work in that part of the complex.

President Roosevelt's order prohibited discrimination against government workers

Besides enormous amounts of concrete and a unique shape — reportedly, it takes just seven minutes to walk between the two farthest points in the structure — it also boasts an extraordinary number of restrooms. The reason? Racial segregation. President Franklin Roosevelt had signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against government workers on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin, but racial tensions still existed in the construction crews. Segregation was also the law of Virginia, where the building is located — it's across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. — and state authorities insisted at first that those laws be enforced.

As Snopes reports, even though the building design accommodated extra restrooms, they were never identified as such — no demarcation of facilities based on race. Snopes quotes Pentagon historian Steve Vogel, who wrote that "a War Department employee used chalk to mark the women's restroom doors on one corridor as 'white' and 'colored,' but the markings were erased after complaints."