Custom House, New York City, c. 1910
Suggested Teaching Instructions
The purpose of a custom house was to collect taxes and regulate commerce coming into the United States. This was before income tax was collected, so the custom tax was a very important form of revenue for the country. The original Custom House at Bowling Green in New York City was built in the late 1700s and destroyed by fire in 1815. When the federal government decided to erect a new Custom House at Bowling Green in the 1890s, the United States Department of Treasury sponsored a competition for the best architectural design. The winning design by Cass Gilbert represented New York and the United States as leading commercial powers.
The building has numerous carvings of historical and philosophical images. Four large sculptures at the entrance, known as “The Continents,” represent Asia, North America, Europe, and Africa. On the sixth story of the building's exterior are twelve carved figures representing twelve great shipping powers of the ancient and modern world: Greece, Rome, Phoenicia, Genoa, Venice, Spain, Holland, Portugal, Denmark, Germany, France, and England.
Math: The Alexander Hamilton United States Custom House has approximately 450,000 square feet of space. How many square feet are in a square yard? How many square yards are in an acre? How many acres of space does the Custom House have?