Birthplace: Jost Van Dyke, West Indies
Location of death: Washington, DC
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Congressional Cemetery, Washington, DC
Race or Ethnicity: White
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: First architect of the US Capitol
William Thornton was trained as a physician, but practiced medicine only briefly, instead earning his living as a self-taught architect. He won a public competition with his design for the United States capitol building, for which he was awarded $500 and a small plot of land in Washington, DC. His winning design, selected by President George Washington, was deemed impractical and altered significantly during construction, but remains recognizable in his blueprints. As an architect, his other buildings of note included Octagon House, which for many years served as headquarters of the American Institute of Architects, and is now its museum.
He served eight years on the Federal District Commission, charged with overseeing the new city's layout and construction, and as the first phase of the District of Colombia reached completion he was appointed the first Superintendent of the US Patent Office. In this position, he had most of the Patent Office's papers secreted to his own estate to save them from advancing British troops in the siege of 1814, and then, as much of Washington was burned, he successfully pleaded with British officers to spare the Patent Office's large collection of modeled inventions. James Madison was Thornton's next-door neighbor in DC until he became President in 1809.
US Official Superintendent of the United States Patent Office (1802-28)
US Official Federal District Commissioner (1794-1802)
American Philosophical Society
Naturalized US Citizen 7-Jan-1788