Under seismic actions, reinforced concrete columns are generally damaged by a combination of repeated stress reversals and high stress excursions. An experimental study was undertaken to investigate cumulative damage in reinforced concrete rectangular columns subjected to repeated cyclic loadings. Fourteen identical half-scale concrete columns were fabricated and tested to failure. This paper summarizes the results of Phase I testing that consisted of benchmark tests to establish the monotonic force-deformation envelope, and constant amplitude tests to determine the low-cycle fatigue characteristics of typical flexural columns. A companion paper will present the results of variable amplitude tests to develop an analytical model of cumulative damage for rectangular reinforced concrete columns. Test observations indicate two potential failure modes: low cycle fatigue of the longitudinal reinforcing bars; and confinement failure due to rupture of the confining hoops. The former failure mode is associated with relatively large displacement amplitudes, while the latter is associated with a larger number of smaller amplitude cycles. A fatigue life expression is developed that can be used in damage-based seismic design of rectangular, flexural concrete columns.