Washington Monument

Washington Monument

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The Washington Monument was the first major architectural memorial to George Washington – the first President and Commander-in-Chief of the United States. This white marble structure is located on Charles Street, a dozen blocks north of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, at Mount Vernon.In 1799, ten years after the president’s death, the people of Baltimore approached the Maryland General Assembly to seek permission to hold a lottery. A design competition was conducted and Robert Mills, a prominent architect of the early 1800s, submitted the winning design.The monument was proposed to be built at Calvert and Fayette Streets, where the Battle Monument now stands. As a solution, Colonel John Eager Howard, a Revolutionary War hero, came forth to donate his land for the monument. In 1815, construction on the site, then called Howard's Woods, was begun, and it was completed by 1829.The four cross-shaped park area, including East and West Mount Vernon Place and North and South Washington Place, and the houses that line them form an elegant setting for the monument.The 19th-century marble monument rises 178 feet and consists of three parts - rectangular base, a plain Doric column, and a standing figure of Washington dressed in a Roman toga.The ground floor holds a museum which highlights information about Washington, as well as the construction of the monument. The square base is inscribed with Washington's Revolutionary War victories and is fenced with ornate Roman fasces and arrows.Visitors can climb up the 228 steps, which lead to the top of the monument, and enjoy an awe-inspiring view of the city.

Washington Monument - History

By 1783 the fame of George Washington, Commanding General and first President of the United States, was assured in the pantheon of statesmen of the world. The Continental Congress recognized Washington's services and his unique role in the founding of the new Republic and, following numerous public and private suggestions to honor him, proposed in 1783 that an equestrian statue be erected "at the place where the residence of Congress shall be established." At the time the future of the infant Nation was as fraught with uncertainty as the location of its permanent seat.

Thus it was that when the French landscape engineer, Maj. Charles Pierre L'Enfant, drew up at Washington's request his first landscape plan for the future capital, the site for such an equestrian statue was included as one of the principal features of the Federal District. On his well known plan L'Enfant had made the following notation with approval of Washington: "The equestrian statue of George Washington, a monument voted in 1783 by the late Continental Congress." [1]

This same area, south of the Nation's principal residence, the Executive Mansion, is the site of one of the noblest architectural structures of the country, the Washington Monument.

Congress took no action until December 1799, when eight days after the death of Washington, United States Representative John Marshall, later the distinguished Chief Justice, proposed that "a Marble monument, be erected by the United States in the Capitol, at the City of Washington, and that the family of George Washington be requested to permit his body to be to be deposited under it." No action was taken on this proposal other than the preparation of a catafalque which now rests in a crypt in the depths below the central dome of the Capitol and which is used on occasion for state funerals.

In 1800 it was proposed that a "mausoleum of American granite and marble, in pyramidal form 100 feet square at the base and of proportionate height," be erected to Washington's memory. In 1801 the House appropriated $200,000 for the construction of such a mausoleum, but it was opposed by the Senate. In 1816 and again in 1832 Congress considered the placing of a tomb for Washington's remains in the Capitol building. On both occasions, however, this was opposed by members of the Washington family, who refused to permit the removal of Washington's remains from his Mount Vernon estate where the will of the late President specifically requested that he be interred.

Throughout the Nation there was a deep sense of disappointment over the failure of Congress to provide for the erection of an appropriate memorial to the Founding Father in the District of Columbia. Other communities had already erected monuments to the memory of Washington, the most pretentious being the 204-foot Doric column memorial erected at a cost of $150,000 in neighboring Baltimore, Md. The money for this was raised by popular subscription, lottery proceeds, and by a final appropriation from the State of Maryland. [2]


The example of Baltimore stirred action among various Washington groups. In September 1833, the Washington National Monument Society was organized in the District of Columbia for the purpose of redeeming, through private efforts, the congressional pledge to erect a memorial in the Nation's Capital that would be worthy of the memory of George Washington.

Chief Justice John Marshall was elected its first president. Upon his death two years later in 1835, former President James Madison was elected to succeed him. Other charter members who served as the Society's first officers were: William Cranch, Chief Justice of the District Court, First Vice President Thomas Carbery, Mayor of Washington (1822-24), Third Vice President Samuel Harrison Smith, founder of the National Intelligencer , Treasurer and George Watterson, Chief Librarian of the Library of Congress, First Secretary. Other charter members were George Bumford, William Brent, Matthew St. Clair Clarke, Peter Force, Thomas S. Jesup, James Kearney, John McClelland, Thomas Munroe, John Rodgers, William Winston Seaton, Nathan Towson, John Peter Van Ness, and Roger Chew Weightman. [3]

To raise funds for the enterprise, the Society appointed collection agents for each State and Territory. To assure that the enterprise would be popular and national in scope, contributions were initially limited to $1 per year per person. This limitation was later removed as the Society sought contributions in any amount and in a number of ways for years. By 1847 a total of $87,000 had been collected, a sum considered by the Society to be sufficient to begin construction of the memorial.

As the Society proceeded with the collection of funds, it began to plan the type of memorial that would be erected. When in 1836, $28,000 had been raised, the Society advertised for competitive architectural designs. Many sketches were submitted, including one resembling France's Arc de Triomphe which had been completed that year. Of the designs submitted, that of Robert Mills, who had designed the Doric-columned obelisk in Baltimore, was chosen.

Mills, who was then 29 years of age, had been appointed that same year as the Nation's first Federal architect by President Andrew Jackson. Mills was to achieve additional fame for his work on other Federal buildings of the Nation's Capital including the old U. S. Post Office, the Patent Office, and the Treasury Building.

Mills' design for a memorial to Washington was blend of Greek, Babylonian and Egyptian architecture. Its enormous circular base was a temple—like building 200 feet in diameter and 100 feet tall. Around the rotunda were to be 30 massive columns, 12 feet in diameter. At the outer ring statues were to be placed of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War heroes, and Washington himself. Mills called the design a "National Pantheon." From the center of the rotunda was to rise a four—sided obelisk, or shaft, to a total height of 600 feet. A "railway" was to transport visitors to an observatory to be located atop the monument. Mills estimated its cost to be $1 million.

Contributions spurted for a time when the selected design was publicized and the Nation was better able to visualize the appearance of the memorial. The amount of the contributions was hampered, however, by the $1 limit placed upon them and by the Panic of 1837 which broke out the following year. In 1840 census takers aided in collecting funds for the memorial. Contributions were induced by United States Deputy Marshals who gave away two sizes of lithographs and portraits of Washington to contributors. Twenty percent of their collections was pocketed by the Marshals, an arrangement which undoubtedly spurred their enthusiasm for the project.

In the interest of economy, the Society was forced to modify the Mills design by reducing the proposed height of the shaft from 600 to 500 feet, and by holding in abeyance the proposed colonnaded pantheon at the monument's base. Later, as the Society sought to renew construction of the monument, some Congressmen thought the Mills design was a "horror."

In 1848, sixty—four years after Congress had made the first proposal for a memorial to the first President, it granted a 37-acre site for it to the Washington National Monument Society. It was the same site, Reservation No.2, on which L'Enfant had planned the memorial. Soil tests, however, showed the intended spot due south of the White House and due West of the Capital to be too marshy. A site about 100 yards to the southeast was chosen, thus altering both the monument's north-south alignment with the White House and its east-west alignment with the Capitol (see Illustration No. 27). This decision was of long—range significance in the development of the Mall area. In the next century the Lincoln Memorial was aligned with the Capitol and the completed Washington Monument, extending and perpetuating the relatively slight deviation from L'Enfant's planned east-west axis. The declination of the Washington Monument from the intended north-south axis through the White House was greater. This axis was eventually reaffirmed by construction of the Jefferson Memorial as its southern terminus, the Washington Monument being accepted as an asymmetrical element in this composition.

Despite the compromise with symmetry, the chosen site offered an excellent view of the Capitol and afforded ready access to materials brought into the city by river barge on the Potomac or by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which entered the city just 10 blocks from the site of the monument near Fourteenth and B Streets, South. Stone and sand quarries were nearby in Virginia and Maryland. Fine-grained white marble was to come from the quarry of Thomas Symington, known as the Beaver Dam quarry, near Baltimore. Symington donated the 24,500—pound block of pure white marble for the cornerstone and the B & O hauled it free to Washington.

Washington Monument

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Washington Monument, obelisk in Washington, D.C., honouring George Washington, the first president of the United States. Constructed of granite faced with Maryland marble, the structure is 55 feet (16.8 metres) square at the base and 554 feet 7 inches (169 metres) high and weighs an estimated 91,000 tons. (The monument’s height was previously measured as 555 feet 5 inches [169.3 metres], but a recalculation based on international standards in 2014 led to its revision.) The shaft’s load-bearing masonry walls are 15 feet (4.6 metres) thick at its base, tapering to a thickness of only 18 inches (46 cm) at the top. At its completion in 1884 it was the world’s tallest man-made structure, though it was supplanted by the Eiffel Tower just five years later. It remains the world’s tallest masonry structure.

A monument to Washington was first proposed in 1783, when the Continental Congress appropriated funds to erect a statue of the country’s military commander on horseback. The site eventually chosen for the statue—the exact surveyed centre of the original District of Columbia, on direct axes with the White House (to the north) and the United States Capitol (to the west)—was intentionally reserved for such a grand monument by Pierre-Charles L’Enfant when he designed the city in 1791. In 1804 President Thomas Jefferson drove a stone marker into the proposed site, though it later sank into the marsh. Because of various problems, including bureaucratic inertia, the project was soon abandoned.

Celebrations of the centenary of Washington’s birth rekindled interest in a monument. In 1833 the Washington National Monument Society, chartered to select a design for an appropriate memorial to the first president, chose a plan by Robert Mills for a 600-foot- (183-metre-) tall obelisk with a circular base complete with 30 Doric columns. The sheer weight of the proposed monument required moving the site from the location specified in L’Enfant’s design to a point 350 feet (110 metres) to the northeast, thereby slightly disrupting the axial relationship to the other buildings. It was hoped that Washington’s remains would eventually be moved from their burial location at Mount Vernon in Virginia and reinterred at the memorial.

Construction did not begin until 1848, and the cornerstone was laid during ceremonies on the Fourth of July. In attendance were George Washington Parke Custis, Washington’s step-grandson, as well as President James K. Polk and Congressman Abraham Lincoln. Financial and political difficulties plagued the project from the start and led to major architectural modifications, including the abandonment of the structure’s grandiose base. Memorial stones for the interior were contributed by various states and numerous fraternal organizations. Pope Pius IX donated a stone from the Temple of Concord in Rome (though in 1854 members of the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing party broke into the obelisk, stole the marker, and disposed of it in the Potomac River). Construction was halted at the outbreak of the Civil War with the obelisk standing only 152 feet (46 metres) tall. Mark Twain, who viewed the unfinished structure after the war, wrote that the monument

has the aspect of a factory chimney with the top broken off…you can see cow-sheds about its base, and the contented sheep nibbling pebbles in the desert solitudes that surround it, and the tired pigs dozing in the holy calm of its protecting shadow.

After some preliminary discussion about tearing down the unfinished structure or changing its design, the Army Corps of Engineers assumed responsibility for its completion. Because it was impossible to find marble matching that used to construct the earlier portion, the colour of the upper two-thirds of the monument is visibly different from that of the lower third. Finally, some 36 years after construction began, the 3,300-pound (1,500 kg) capstone was set on the structure (December 6, 1884), and the Washington Monument was officially dedicated by President Chester Arthur during ceremonies on February 21, 1885. However, the monument was not opened to the public until October 9, 1888, following the installation of a steam elevator, which enabled visitors to reach the observation deck without walking up the monument’s 897 steps. The modern elevator makes the ascent in about 60 seconds. Inserted in the interior walls are more than 190 carved stones presented by various individuals, cities, states, and foreign nations.

Washington Monument - History

Because of the swamplike nature of the ground at the planned cross-axis of the White House and the U. S. Capitol, the construction engineers located the site for the foundations about 100 yards to the southwest on ground with a rocklike bearing. The original foundation was constructed of blue gneiss rock, placed in large blocks just as they were quarried. In his report on the strength of this rock, Robert Mills, the architect, reported that it was subjected to pressure tests along with the Symington marble, Mills stated.

We subjected also a block of the bluestone ( gneisse ) of [the valley] Potomac which forms the foundations and backing to the marble of this structure, to the test of pressure and found that a block squaring but 3.372 square inches has a pressure of 13,375 pounds before fracturing. [1]

The blocks were set in a mixture of lime mortar and cement to form a stepped-up truncated pyramid 80 feet square at the base. The foundation extended 7 feet, 8 inches below ground, and 15 feet, 8 inches above. [2] However, it proved to be incapable of supporting the projected height and weight of the monument and was later modified when the project was completed by the Army engineers.


Sunday, July 4, 1848, was the day selected for laying the cornerstone. It was of pure white Symington marble weighing 24,500 pounds and had been dragged through the streets of Washington by workmen and anyone else who could seize a line of the cumbersome vehicle transporting it from the railroad station to the site. The day seemed propitious. It dawned sunny. An early morning light rain had laid the dust of Washington's hot summer and "infused a delicious light freshness" to the atmosphere. The day's mood was enthusiastic without any foreshadowing of the problems to be met and the length of time it would take to complete the memorial.

Fares were reduced for the occasion by railroads and stagecoach lines entering the city. It was estimated that a crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 had gathered near the site and along the parade route from the Capitol. Many had purchased reserved seats in awning—covered bleachers that had been placed around the temporary arch erected over the site. The arch was festive in its decorations of red, white and blue bunting, and tethered to its top sat a huge American bald eagle, said to be over 40 years old, glowering over the crowd. It was the same eagle that had decorated the arch in Alexandria, Va., erected in honor of the French hero of the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette, when he made his last visit in 1826 to the Nation he had helped found.

President James K. Polk led the parade to the site and his carriage was followed by those of members of his Cabinet, members of the Senate and House of Representatives, and marching groups of military units and patriotic organizations. The latter included the Marlborough Cavalry, the Eagle artillerists of Baltimore, the Washington Light Infantry, the Marine Band and several volunteer fire companies. The horse-drawn pumpers and hose carts were resplendent with flowers, flags, and bunting. The firemen added to the occasion dressed in the distinctive uniform of each company, ranging from red dress jackets to white pantaloons.

House Speaker Robert C. Winthrop delivered a two-hour oration that was followed by the placing of various mementoes in a zinc case in the cornerstone. These included copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, a portrait of Washington, all national coins then in use from the $10 gold eagle to the half-dime, an American flag, and newspapers from 14 states, including the Valley Whig of Fincastle, Va., the Lycoming Gazette of Williamsport, Pa., and the ladium of Worcester, Mass. Other memorabilia included Maury's Wind and Current Charts of the North Atlantic , the by—laws of Powhatan Tribe No. 1, and a copy of the constitution of the first organized temperance society in America. [3]

The cornerstone was formally laid by Grandmaster Benjamin B. French of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the District of Columbia. He wore the same Masonic apron and sash that had belonged to President Washington, and wielded the same Mason's gavel that had been used by him when he laid the cornerstone of the U. S. Capitol On September 18, 1793. French applied the Masonic square, level, and plumb to the northeast corner and pronounced it sound. He then poured vials of the traditional Masonic symbols over the cornerstone. They consisted of corn, invoking the blessing of plenty upon the Nation wine, for the joy ever to be found in our broad land and oil, the healing oil of consolation. In concluding the ceremonies, the Grandmaster said.

This cornerstone is now ready to receive the superstructure which is to rise above it. May no accident attend its erection, and may the capstone, that announces its completion, be laid under circumstances as happy and as favorable as this foundation stone has now been placed. [4]

Despite the fact that the laying of the cornerstone to the Washington Monument was a notable event in its history, its exact location is said to be a mystery to this day. The stone was undoubtedly covered up in the construction of the monument.

New attention was focused upon the project by the cornerstone ceremony and "give a penny" appeals went out to the Nation's three million school children. While donations were to reach a total of $230,000, they still fell far short of Mills' original estimate of $1 million needed to complete the monument.

Several months later on November 1, 1848, Architect Mills established the permanent bench mark for the Washington Monument and informed the Board of Managers of the Washington National Monument Society of it the same day. In his letter, he said:

November 1, 1848


In order to establish a permanent bench mark, denoting the relative difference of level between it and a certain point on the foundation of the Monument with a view to future operations to determine at proper times whether any settlement had taken place in such foundation. I, on this day, made a series of levels from a point on the top of the third course or step of the foundation, North West angle, to a point of the top of the Meridian stone Monument, near to the tide water (which Stone Monument was planted there by President Jefferson, to determine the intersection of the Meridian line from the centre of the President's House with a line drawn west from the centre of the Capitol) and find the top of said Meridian Stone Monument to be thirteen feet, one inch, and five—eighths of an inch lower than said foundation, at the top of said third course or step. My assistants were M. Dougherty, the Superintendent of the work of the Monument, and Mr. Hepburn, his assistant.

Archt WNM

To Board of Managers
Washington National Monument [5]


The construction of the Washington Monument was begun in the early summer of 1848, by the Washington National Monument Society. The structure, as designed by Robert Mills, was an obelisk 600 feet in height with a flat apex. The base was to be surrounded by a pantheon with a peristyle of marble columns 100 feet high.

Shortly after the beginning of the work, the height of the obelisk was reduced to 500 feet, and the building of the pantheon was deferred to some future date. The foundation of the obelisk was 80 feet square at the bed of the foundation, and this bed was placed 7 feet, 8 inches below the general level of the ground about the structure. The foundation was 23 feet, 4 inches thick, and 58 feet, 6 inches square at its top. It was constructed of large pieces of bluestone gneiss, put in the masonry as they came from the quarry. The interstices between the masses were filled with spawls and a mortar composed largely of fat lime and sand.

The shaft was commenced 55 feet, 1-1/2 inches square at the base. The walls were 15 feet thick. These walls had a facing of large—grained white marble, in blocks of 2 feet rise and from 15 to 18 inches in thickness, sawed without reference to the quarry bed, and rubbed smooth. The walls had a backing of blue gneiss—stone rubble.

By 1854 the obelisk had been built to a height of 152 feet, and by 1856 about four feet more were added, making the total height of the shaft 156 feet, 4 1/8 inches. At its top the sides averaged 48 feet, nine and 5/8 inches in length. The interior well was 25 feet, one inch square. The axis of the shaft leaned one and 3/4 inches to the north. The thickness of the walls at the top was 11 feet, 5/16 inches. The weight of this obelisk and its foundation was about 31,152 tons, and the cost of the structure was close to $300,000. [6]

Of interest is the scale of wages which were paid during the first construction phase of the monument. According to the Treasurer's records of payrolls for the period 1848㬴, the following is the breakdown of the 57 workmen then employed and their pay scale for December 1849: [7]

Stone masons15 $2.00 (1)
1.75 (14)
Master mason
Stone cutters2 1.75
Master cutter

Riggers1 1.25
Laborers33 1.00
Watchmen2 1.001 day, 1 night

The number of workmen employed daily naturally varied with the progress of the work, the amount of materials on hand, and the availability of funds.

Washington Monument Construction Timeline

September 26, 1833
The Washington National Monument Society is founded by Chief Justice John Marshall, who served as the first president of society George Watterston, Librarian of Congress and former president James Madison, who became president of the society after Marshall's death in 1835.

The Washington National Monument Society appoints bonded agents to collect funds from the general public for construction of a monument to George Washington. Individual donations were initially limited to $1 per person per year, and donors received a certificate acknowledging their donation.

November 18, 1845
The Washington National Monument Society selects a design for the monument by Robert Mills. A design for the Washington Monument by Robert Mills is formally adopted by the society. This original design called for a 600-foot tall obelisk with a nearly flat top, surrounded by a colonnaded rotunda 200-feet in diameter and 100-feet tall. Thirty 12-foot diameter columns formed a 'National Pantheon' with statues of 30 prominent Revolutionary War heroes and signers of the Declaration of Independence inside. The obelisk was crowned with a statue of Washington in a chariot. This building was estimated to cost $200,000 to complete.

January 31, 1848
Congress authorized the Washington National Monument Society to build their monument to George Washington on public grounds or a reservation within Washington, D,C.

April 11, 1848
Due to funding shortfalls, the Washington National Monument Society directs Mills to modify his original design for the monument, to initially build only the 500-foot tall obelisk, with a 55-foot square base and 35-foot square apex. The construction of a pantheon, terrace, or landscape would be addressed after the obelisk was completed.

July 4, 1848
The cornerstone of the monument is laid with great fanfare. Among the participants were President James K. Polk, the Cabinet, Congress military units, fire companies and marching bands. Within the 24,500 pound marble cornerstone was a zinc case filled with mementoes, including copies of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, coins and newspapers.

Fall 1854
By the end of the building season, the Washington Monument stood 152 feet tall and the Washington National Monument Society had exhausted all funds for the project.

A presidential order presidential order is issued "to use the Monument Grounds for Cattle belonging to the Govemment." The grounds of the incomplete monument were known as the Beef Depot, the Cattle Meadow, and the Washington National Monument Cattle Yard during the Civil War.

August 2, 1876
Congress appropriates $2 million in federal funds to complete the construction of the Washington Monument. The public funding is contingent upon the transfer of ownership of the monument from The Washington National Monument Society to the federal government.

July 1, 1878
Thomas Lincoln Casey is appointed as engineer-in-charge of the monument. He is authorized to hire, build temporary buildings, and prepare a project for strengthening the foundations to support a 525-foot tall shaft.

February 1880
Contractors begin installation of the staircase and elevator frames within the monument.

May 28, 1880
The strengthening of the monument’s foundation is completed.

August 7, 1880
A second cornerstone is set at the 150-foot level, marking the resumption of the construction of the shaft. Twenty-six feet would be added during the 1880 construction season.

An additional 76 feet is added to the monument, bringing it to 250 feet in height.

May 1, 1882
Construction resumes for the 1882 building season. Ninety feet would be added before the end of the season on December 19, bringing the total to 340 feet.

December 6, 1884
The capstone and aluminum point are set in to place at 2:17 p.m. marking the completion of the construction of the Washington Monument.

February 21, 1885
Dedication ceremonies for the Washington Monument.

June 26, 1886
Otis Brothers of New York City is contracted to convert the hoist that had been used to lift the stones into place into a passenger elevator, complete with seats and soft wall linings. The upgraded elevator was completed on December 20, 1886, and it took 10-12 minutes to ascend the monument.

October 9, 1888
The Washington Monument opens to the public.

1930's era Restoration
The Washington Monument undergoes its first major resoration (repointing, repair and cleaning).Photos

1960's era Restoration
The Washington Monument undergoes its second resoration (repointing, repair and cleaning). Photos

1990's era Restoration
The Washington Monument undergoes its third resoration (repointing, repair and cleaning). Photos

2001 Temporary Screening Facility Added to Monument
After the 9/11 attacks on the Nation's Capital, security was raised to new levels. A screening facility was added to protect the Monument and the visiting public.

2011 Earthquake
The Washington Monument was effected by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake.The study and repair after that are outlined HERE.

2016-2019 Elevator Modernization and screening facility replacement.
After many years in operation the elevator needed to be updated to operate more effectively and provide for a better visitor experience. The old svreening facility was replaced with a new, more secure and more pleasant looking one.

Washington Monument - History


The dedication of the completed Washington Monument took place on February 22, 1885. It marked the end of construction on the memorial, aside from final details, and the last official act of President Chester Alan Arthur, who caught a cold during the ceremonies.

Washington's birthday that year was clear and cold, and the sharp wind blowing down the Potomac chilled the assembled crowd. The ground at the base of the majestic shaft was encrusted with snow. But it was a great day for the men who spent years completing the monument, as the obelisk to the Father of his Country stood noble, proud, majestic and serene. It represented the ideals of America. It was at that time the tallest monument of masonry in the world.

At the base of the monument, regular troops and citizen soldiers were massed in close formation. There were Freemasons and in the special pavilion erected nearby were invited guests consisting of executive, legislative, and judicial officers. There were officers of the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, and groups of volunteer units. There were members of the diplomatic corps representing the entire world there were clergymen, jurists, scientists, venerable citizens, and members of the Washington National Monument Society, the proudest of all. All gathered in homage to George Washington, the man and his ideals.

Short addresses were delivered by Senator John Sherman of Ohio, who had introduced the Concurrent Resolution in the Congress that had resulted in completion of the monument by William W. Corcoran, Secretary of the Washington National Monument Society and by Col. Thomas Lincoln Casey, chief engineer and guiding spirit behind its completion. A few well-chosen remarks were made by President Arthur, who concluded by declaring the monument dedicated from that time forth "to the immortal name and memory of George Washington."

Following the exercises at the monument, curtailed undoubtedly by the frigid weather, the official procession headed by Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. The President's special escort was the Ancient and Honorable Artillery of Massachusetts, chartered in 1638, which had come to the Capital to participate in the events of the day.

In the chamber of the House, two addresses were delivered: one by Speaker Robert C. Winthrop the second by the Hon. John W. Daniel of Virginia, Washington's native state. A special reception was given that evening at the White House for the courtesies extended by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company to President Arthur, one of its honorary members. [1]

Following dedication of the monument numerous details of its construction that could not be finished earlier were rushed to completion. Among these were: installation of the iron stairway, steel treads and platforms a passenger elevator windows of the Pyramidion stone flagging at the base an electric light plant for interior lighting a boiler house and pipe tunnels to the monument equipment for protection from lightning insertion of memorial blocks in the interior walls removal of all useless construction equipment from the grounds construction of a lodge deposition of earth filling about the base of the shaft and filling the monument grounds and finally, preparation of estimates for the operation of the monument. All work was completed by 1888 at which time the Joint Commission for Completion of the Monument was dissolved at its own request by Act of Congress approved October 2, 1888, and the Secretary of War was charged with the custody, care, and protection of the monument thereafter.

Colonel Casey submitted his last report to the Joint Commission on December 1, 1887, and had asked to be relieved at his own request. By direction of the President, as contained in Special Orders No. 76, Headquarters, U. S. Army, Adjutant-General's Office, dated April 3, 1888, Lt. Col. John M. Wilson, C.E., reported to the Joint Commission as engineer in charge of the construction of the monument. [2] He continued where Colonel Casey had left off.

During the construction of the monument, wooden stair treads had been laid down to the top. With the completion of the monument, these were replaced with steel treads to complete the iron stairway and steel platforms.

Drawings were prepared for the completion of this work and on May 6, 1885, a contract was made with the Snead and Company Iron Works of Louisville, Ky. The work was completed on April 30, 1886, and included the substitution of iron treads, platform coverings, handrails, and screens for al the temporary wooden parts of the iron staircase. All ungalvanized parts of the frame were painted.

Visitors could now have safe access by stairs to the top of the monument, and by September 1886 some 10,000 persons had walked to its 500-foot level. [3]

The completion of this ironwork required the removal of the three plummet wires which furnished a daily record of the movement of the shaft. They had been suspended from points 150, 176, and 500 feet above the floor. A single plummet was substituted and suspended from the level of the center of gravity of the shaft. Proper instruments for reading any motion in the shaft were procured and installed on the floor.

To carry passengers to the top of the monument, the wooden car used for carrying stone was replaced by a passenger car installed under contract with Otis & Brothers of New York City, dated July 26, 1886. The elevator machinery was altered and adjusted and after a successful test, the contract was completed on December 2 of the same year. [4]

The windows of the pyramidion had served as openings through which the staging for its construction had been supported. They also gave access to the exterior walls of the monument.

These windows were carefully fitted with marble shutters set in bronze frames. The eight frames were hung upon revolving craner and so contrived that they could be easily maneuvered, thus carrying the shutters into position so that their faces could always be protected from disfigurement and accident. When the windows of the pyramidion are closed by these shutters, it is vastly improved in appearance. The interior of the shaft is also protected from storm waters which would otherwise flow into it from the roof and flood the upper platforms.

On January 27, 1885, a contract was made with the U. S. Electric Lighting Co., of Washington, for the installation of an electric lighting plant in the monument. The dynamo and cables of the plant were designed for 125 incandescent lamps, which it was believed would be the maximum required to light the interior. Two lights to each platform were installed from the base to the 200-foot level, and one lamp to each platform thereafter from to the 480-foot level. [5]

In 1886 the floor of the monument was paved with blue-stone flagging arranged in pleasing patterns and rubbed smooth. The drum-pit and trench for the main shaft from the engine were covered with wrought and cast-iron plates respectively. [6]

A permanent boiler house was erected about 750 feet southwest of the monument under contract with William Bradley of Washington, dated October 22, 1885, including the boilers. It was designed to accommodate two boilers and included a 90-ton capacity coal vault. It was built of refuse marble and granite which had accumulated during construction of the obelisk. The boilers furnished live and exhaust steam to and from the monument through pipes located in a brick culvert beneath the glacis surrounding the obelisk. The contract was completed June 30, 1886. Owing to the filling of the outlets opposite the drains from the boiler house, a pipe sewer was constructed about 250 feet in length which led to one of the ponds in charge of the Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries. These ponds in the northwest section of the monument grounds were later filled in to stabilize the foundations of the memorial. [7]

A pipe tunnel, enlarging of the engine house, and laying the floor at the foot of the interior of the monument was done under contract dated March 15, 1886, with Halliday & Wilson of Washington, D. C. The pipe-tunnel was constructed beneath the surface of the ground and connected the boiler and engine houses by an arched passageway that was three feet in width and four feet, three inches in height. It was designed to carry on its floor the steam pipes to, and the exhaust pipes from, the engine at the foot of the monument. The tunnel was constructed of brick and completed June 21.

The engine house was enlarged to the south over a space of about six by 24 feet to accommodate the dynamo and its engine that was used for lighting the well of the shaft. The entire structure was covered with a roof that did not obstruct the view of any portion of the shaft, nor project above the upper surface of the terrace surrounding the base of the monument. The entire structure was built of iron and masonry, the roof being covered with copper. By August 11 the work was completed. [8]


At various times since the first memorial stone had been presented to the Society for insertion in the interior walls of the monument, 189 had been received from foreign countries, States, Territories, cities and towns of the Union, societies, and individuals. Ninety-two had been built into the walls of the portion of the shaft completed by the Washington National Monument Society.

When the upper six feet of the shaft had been removed because of damage, eight of these stones were removed and placed in the lapidarium with others. When the balance of the shaft was constructed under Colonel Casey's direction, it was decided not to build in any more of the memorial blocks until the obelisk was completed.

On June 30, 1885, a contract was entered into with Dennis O'Leary and during that year, he inserted 53 memorial blocks in the walls from platform 160 to platform 230. The work consisted in reducing the thickness of the blocks to thin slabs, cutting depressions in the faces of the wall, and securely, wedging the slabs into them. Of the stones inserted during 1885, nine were from foreign countries, namely, Brazil, Bremen, China, Greece, Japan, Sian, Switzerland, and the Isles of Paros and Naxos 13 were from States and Territories, namely, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, Montana, Utah and Wyoming ten from cities and towns nine from Masonic Societies six from Odd-Fellow Societies four from the Sons of Temperance, and two miscellaneous. A space was prepared for the later insertion of a block from New York State at the 160-foot level.

Fifty-one memorial blocks remained in the lapidarium and in 1886 stones were received from New York and Oregon. Most of the blocks remaining represented local societies, organizations and individuals and insertion in the walls was reserved to the future. [9]

Two years later, in 1887, 11 memorial stones were inserted in the walls by Burns & Company of Washington. During the 1889 fiscal year, 31 memorial stones were inserted in niches in the walls prepared for them from the 260- to the 280-foot level. During the next 38 years from 1889 to February 1927, when the last memorial stone, from New Mexico, was inserted in inner walls at the 330-foot level, eight stones had been inserted in the walls between the 280- and 330 foot levels of the monument. [10] The total number of memorial stones inserted in the walls of the Washington Monument is 190. These stones were to became the target of souvenir hunters from the very first day that visitation to the monument was permitted, and vandalism was to become one of the most annoying problems in the administration of the monument. While guards occasionally caught a culprit red-handed in his act of vandalism, small fines and the impossibility of patrolling all platforms of the obelisk were to make it an impossible task. As one examines these memorial stones, he finds that some of their most beautiful decorations have been destroyed.


1. Alabama40-foot18. Kentucky110-foot
2. AlaskaNo Stone19. Louisiana40-ft
3. Arizona320-ft20. Maine30-ft
4. Arkansas30-ft21. Maryland80-ft
5. California120-ft22. Massachusetts70-ft
6. Colorado290-ft23. Michigan210-ft
7. Connecticut70-ft24. Minnesota220-ft
8. Delaware30-ft25. Mississippi90-ft
9. District of Columbia80-ft26. Missouri90-ft
10. Florida60-ft27. Montana220-ft
11. Georgia50-ft28. Nebraska220-ft
12. Hawaii350-ft29. Nevada220-ft
13. Idaho400-ft30. New Hampshire60-ft
14. Illinois50-ft31. New Jersey70-ft
15. Indiana50-ft32. New Mexico330-ft
16. Iowa110-ft33. New York160-ft
17. Kansas210-ft34. North Carolina100-ft

35. North Dakota350-foot44. Texas290-feet
36. Ohio90-ft45. Utah220-ft
37. Oklahoma290-ft45a. Deseret220-ft
38. Oregon220-ft46. Vermont170-ft
39. Pennsylvania140-ft47. Virginia80-ft
40. Rhode Island100-ft48. Washington310-ft
41. South Carolina60-ft49. West Virginia200-ft
42. South Dakota300-ft50. Wisconsin100-ft
43. Tennessee230-ft51. Wyoming220-ft


Brazil190-foot landing
Bremen, Germany190-ft
Citizens of U.S.A., residing in Foo Chow Foo, China250-ft
Egypt, Alexandrian Library270-ft
Grecian Archipelago, Islands of Paros and Naxos190-ft
Switzerland, Confederation of190-ft


As construction of the final details of the monument was being completed during 1885, modifications were made to the original doors in the base of the structure, for it had been decided to have but one entrance door to control access to the monument, the door facing the east symbolically to greet the rising sun.

According to Mills' original design, two large Egyptian doorways, 15 feet in height by six feet in width, had been built into the obelisk during the first phase of its construction. Each door was surmounted by a heavy pediment and an entablature upon which was carved a winged bull and an asp. They were entirely in keeping with the original design of a massive temple to surround the lower part of the shaft. However, after the decision had been made to retain only the obelisk on Consul Marsh's recommendation, the doors were no longer appropriate.

The projecting jambs, entablature, and pediment were dressed down to the planes of the faces of the shaft, and the west door was walled up with large grained marble such as was used in facing the lower part of the walls. The east door, the one now existing as the sole entrance to the monument, was reduced in height from 15 to eight feet and closed by two marble slabs or doors that open upon heavy bronze hinges, the weight of each leaf being over a half-ton and supported upon a steel friction roller. [12] When the monument was opened to visitors, a storm door was placed around the entrance during fiscal 1889 to protect the interior from inclement weather. [13]


One of the most awesome sights on the Washington skyline is when lightning starts crackling about the tip of the monument and heaven and earth seem united through brilliant flashes. However, there is little if any danger to the memorial or the people in it, even though some small incidents have taken place, for it has a highly intricate system of protection from that source.

Work began on installing lightning conductors for the Washington Monument in January 1880 and the task was completed in January 1885. These conductors utilize the four hollow wrought-iron Phoenix columns standing in the well of the shaft, which also support the elevator machinery and guide the car. These columns are six inches in exterior diameter, 5/8 of an inch in thickness, and are made up of 20—foot sections. They are fastened together with long inside couplings, which fit tightly into the columns and are fastened to them by 16 screw bolts. The bottoms of these four columns rest upon and are bolted to cast-iron shoes which in turn stand upon the floor of the large drum-pit beneath the floor of the monument. The shoes are connected to three-quarter inch soft copper rods which terminate in the bottom of the well in the center of the foundation. This well is 32 feet, 10 inches in depth below the bottom of the drum—pit, and 15 feet, 8 inches below the bottom of the masonry foundation. The water stands in it permanently to a height of two feet, eight inches above its bottom. After the copper rods were inserted, the well was filled with clean sharp sand up to the level of the bottom of the old rubble—stone foundation of the monument. The four columns, projecting above the top of the shaft, were continually lengthened as the building of the shaft progressed. During the five summers that the masonry was being completed, they acted as the lightning conductors of the edifice. No disruptive discharges of electricity were experienced during these five years.

When the walls were completed in December 1884, and the upper extremities of the columns were covered by the marble pyramidion, four copper rods, three quarters of an inch in diameter, were run to the top stone, one from each column. They were there united in a 1-1/2—inch copper rod which passed vertically through the stone and was screwed into the solid metal terminal of aluminum, i. e., the aluminum capstone. This metal was selected for the terminal because of its whiteness and the probability that its polished surfaces would not tarnish upon exposure to air. It was a square pyramid in shape, similar to the pyramidion of the obelisk, and fitting upon the top stone completed the apex. This terminal weighed 100 ounces, and was 8.9 inches in height and 5.6 inches in width at the base. The angle at the vertex between the two opposite sides was about 34° 48'.

When tested, the conductors gave an electrical resistance of 1/10 of an ohm from the tip of the terminal to the copper rods at the base, and 2 and 2/10 ohms for the ground connections, making a total resistance of 2 and 3/10 ohms for the conductor. The system was completed and connected on January 20, 1885. Proof of its resistance was shortly forthcoming.

On April 5, 1885, during the passage of a heavy thunder cloud over the monument, at least five immense sparks or bolts of electrical light were seen within a period of 20 minutes to flash between the terminal and the cloud, without audible sound to the observers. A careful examination of the conductors and shaft after this phenomenon failed to reveal any effects from these discharges.

On June 8, however, during a thunder storm, a disruptive discharge was seen to pass between the summit of the pyramidion and the cloud. Upon examining the structure, a crack was discovered in the stone on the north face of the pyramidion just under the top stone, extending through the block in a line nearly parallel to the northeast corner, and about 8-1/2 inches from it. The fragment was pressed outwards about 3/4 of an inch at its bottom, chipping a small piece of the lower corner of the top stone into which it was locked, and was easily forced back into place and bolted to the solid stone form which it had been ejected.

Because of the circumstances of this damage and to devise if possible some plan by which the obelisk could be more effectively protected from lightning. Professors R. A. Rowland of Johns Hopkins University, Simon Newcomb of the U. S. Navy, and T. C. Mendenhall of the Signal Service, U. S. Army, were invited to inspect the conductors and to recommend any modifications that in their judgment would properly meet the desired end.

After a careful examination of the system then used, they recommended that the interior conductors of the monument should be connected to a system of rods and a greater number of points to be located on the exterior of the pyramidion. As devised by the group, the additions consisted of four one-half inch copper rods that were fastened to the aluminum terminal. These were led down the corners to the base of the pyramidion. They then passed through the masonry and extended inward where they were joined to the iron columns described above. As these exterior rods were each over 60 feet long, they were also connected at two intermediate points of their lengths with the iron columns by means of copper rods one-half and three-quarters of an inch in diameter respectively, furnishing 16 rods in all connecting the exterior system of conductors with the interior conducting columns. At the point where the exterior rods upon the corners cross the 11 highest horizontal joints of the masonry of the pyramidion, they are connected to each other at all points by other copper rods sunk into these joints. All exterior rods, couplings, and fittings are gold plated. They are studded every five feet with three-inch copper points all of which are gold plated and tipped with aluminum. There are 200 of these points in all. The work was carried out by Ledig & Herrlein of Philadelphia at a cost of $1,217. [14] The four main points lasted to 1934, when during the first cleaning of the Washington Monument they were removed and replaced. It was found that the tips were half-burnt and destroyed by the many flashes of lightning which had struck the memorial without further incident. An interesting sidelight was recounted by Hordyczak, the famous photographer of the Washington scene during the 1930s, who stated that when the workmen could not loosen the gold-tipped points, he did so with his teeth and he now has a souvenir tip at home. [15]

As the monument neared completion, two suggestions were advanced for treating the terrace at the foot of the shaft. One method proposed the erection of a retaining wall, to be built of the rarest and most beautiful marbles obtainable, around the terrace. The wall was to be surmounted with a marble balustrade and ornamented with bronzes and mosaics. At the center of each face was to be a set of broad, double stairs, extending from the general level of the site to an esplanade. This was to be paved in marble tiles of approved patterns. All details of the work were to be designed by first-class artists and architects. Colonel Casey estimated that completion of the terrace by this method would cost $528,000. [16]

The second method was simpler and cheaper--this was to fill earth about the terrace, and to extend this filling to the surrounding areas of the monument so that the slopes would blend in gradually and give the entire area a natural appearance. Trees and shrubs were then to be planted and paths laid out. A pavement was then to be laid at the base of the monument and extend out far enough to prevent storm waters from washing out the filling. A keeper's lodge was to be built nearby with accommodations for assembling visitors to the monument and for offices to preserve the archives of the Society. It was estimated that it would require 275,000 cubic yards of fill and would cost but $82,500 compared to the first method whose cost is noted above. [17]

The project for the earth filling was approved by the Joint Commission on December 23, 1886. On July 28, 1887, Congress approved the project and passed an act to facilitate the moving of large quantities of earth through the city. Meanwhile, bids had been asked for and a contract was made with Thomas H. Lyons, of Baltimore, on March 19, 1887, to deposit about 250,000 cubic yards of earth at 39 cents per cubic yard about the base of the monument and in Babcock Lake just north of it. The work was to be completed by or before January 1, 1889. The contractor began work in April 1887 and by the end of the year had deposited about 85,000 cubic yards in the localities designated. Colonel Casey had meantime made a very minute and accurate estimate of the cubical contents of the filling, certifying that it would require about 267,412 cubic yards of fill to complete the project. [18] The work of filling the ground about the base of the Monument was completed in December 1888. [19]


As final details of the construction of the Washington Monument were being completed and preparations made for the manner in which visitors were to be handled at the base prior to ascending to the top, proposals were invited for the construction of a marble lodge house to be situated near the monument. The expense of its construction was to be borne by the Washington National Monument Society. Following advertising for bids, which began on February 18, 1888, the contract was awarded to Lane and Malnati of Washington, D. C., for the sum of $10,720. The location of the lodge was later changed by direction of the Monument Commission to a site about 480 feet east of the monument. The contractor was allowed an additional $930 for expenses involved in changing the site.

Construction work began in April 1888 and due to the change of site was halted until June. The character of the materials and construction was reported to be satisfactory, although progress was slow. In January 1889, the lodge was completed, approved as satisfactory and transferred to the jurisdiction of the United States by the Society. [20] Architects of the lodge were Poindexter & Co., of the District.

Initially, visitors to the monument assembled in the lodge house and when a sufficient number had congregated they were escorted by a guide to the monument. Crowds became so enormous, however, that the assembly point was changed to the base of the monument and has continued there ever since.


As the monument neared completion and visitors came in larger numbers demanding access to it, the Joint Commission realized that plans had to be made for its continued operation as one of the principal goals of sightseers to the Capital. In response to the Committee's request, Colonel Casey submitted to it on January 20, 1887, the first estimate of the probable cost of running the elevator at the monument. Casey suggested that the following number of personnel would be required for the yearly overall operation of the memorial:

1 custodian, $100 p/mth$1,200
1 steam engineer, $80 p/mth960
1 ass 't steam engineer, $60 p/mth720
1 fireman, $50 p/mth600
1 assistant fireman, $45 p/mth540
1 car conductor (elevator operator], $75 p/mth900
1 attendant at base, $45 p/mth540
1 attendant at top, $45 p/mth540
3 night and day watchmen, $60 ea. p/mth2,160
350 tons of coal, $5 p/ton1,750
Oil, waste, packing and repairs to engine and boiler 500


Casey rounded off the figure to $10,500, and explained the reason for suggesting assistants to the steam engineer and fireman, saying, "in an operation involving the lives of so many persons, it is not well to leave these men alone in their rooms." [21]

The Washington Monument: A view from the museum

The view from the western side of the museum is spectacular. It includes the western end of the National Mall, the World War II Memorial, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and, of course, the Washington Monument. During a recent meeting, I looked out the window at this view and began wondering why the nation decided to build a tall marble obelisk as an homage to our first president. As it turns out, it is quite a story!

The idea to build a memorial to George Washington pre-dates both Washington, D.C., and Washington’s presidency. In the 1780s, members of the Continental Congress resolved to build an “equestrian statue” in Washington’s honor, but there was a debate over the location of the statue. Washington’s death in 1799 renewed interest in a memorial to honor him. That year, Congress recommended that a “marble monument be erected in Washington, and that the family of General Washington be requested to permit his body to be deposited under it.” Eventually, plans to entomb Washington beneath the monument were abandoned.

Although the proposal of a monument to Washington was introduced several times, no progress was made. In the early 1830s, several prominent Washingtonians decided they had had enough—if Congress wasn’t going to build a monument to the first Commander in Chief, they would and so the Washington National Monument Society was formed. The society put forward a call for designs and later selected the winning proposal: a marble obelisk with surrounding colonnade, designed by Robert Mills.

Robert Mills’s original design for the Washington Monument included a subterranean space, a colonnade, and equestrian statues. Due to construction costs, only the obelisk was built.

To raise money for the project, the monument society appointed agents to collect funds, and public participation was limited to $1 so that all could contribute. However, after three years the society had only collected $20,000, and due to a recession in the late 1830s, collecting was suspended. After the recession, the $1 limit on contributions was lifted. To raise money the society made lithographs for contributors who donated at least $1 the lithographs showed the proposed design alongside signatures of various prominent politicians of the day, including Zachary Taylor, James Polk, George Dallas, Henry Clay, Millard Fillmore, John Quincy Adams, and Daniel Webster. Additionally, contribution boxes were placed in post offices around the country.

In 1849, after receiving a block of marble for the monument from the citizens of Alabama, the society began soliciting blocks of marble from other states, territories, trade unions, Native American tribes, and foreign governments. Not all donations were equally popular. On the evening of March 5, 1854, several men broke into the monument’s construction site and stole a block of marble that had been sent by Pope Pius IX. The men then threw the stone into the Potomac River. Although no arrests were made, it was common knowledge that the perpetrators were members of the American Party, more commonly known as the “Know-Nothings.” The Know-Nothings, who quickly rose to political power in the 1840s, were strongly anti-Catholic and opposed the growing number of immigrants to the United States.

Although the pattern of the marble doesn’t match the original description, this stone came to the museum with the claim that it is the Pope’s stone.

From 1855 to 1858, the Know-Nothings seized control of the Washington Monument Society. During this time, very few monetary contributions were collected and only a few feet of marble were added to the monument. Ultimately, the Know-Nothings fell from political power and returned the monument to the Society’s original members, but the lack of progress convinced many Americans that the federal government needed to intervene. In February 1866, President Andrew Johnson stated, “Let us restore the Union and proceed with the monument as its symbol until it shall contain the pledge of the States of the Union . . . Let us restore the Union and let us proceed with the monument founded as its symbol until it shall contain the pledges of all the States of the Union . . . Let your monument rise . . . higher and higher.” Ten years later, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law a joint resolution stating “we, the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress assembled, in the name of the people of the United States . . . do assume and direct the completion of the Washington Monument, in the City of Washington.” This joint resolution, unanimously adopted by both the House and Senate, meant that the Washington Monument Society ceded “all property, rights, and privileges” to Congress. Now, Congress was officially responsible for completion of the Washington Monument.

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Casey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was appointed to resume construction of the monument. After inspecting its “stub” he found that the foundation did not provide enough support and the section of marble installed by the Know-Nothings was inferior and needed to be removed. Under Casey’s direction, progress on the construction of the monument proceeded quickly and efficiently. Between 1880 and 1882 the monument grew in height—from 154 feet to 340 feet. In November 1884 the monument hit the 520-foot mark, temporarily becoming the tallest structure in the world.

Finally, in February 1885 the dedication of the Washington Monument took place. During the ceremony, Senator John Sherman stated, “the monument speaks for itself—simple in form, admirable in proportion, composed of enduring marble and granite, resting upon foundations broad and deep, it rises into the skies higher than any work of human art. It is the most imposing, costly, and appropriate monument ever erected in the honor of one man.”

The Order of Proceedings for the Dedication of the Washington Monument took place on Washington’s Birthday. This program belonged to Smithsonian Secretary Spencer Baird.

Although the monument was dedicated in 1885, it wasn’t officially ready to receive visitors until 1888. Since its opening, hundreds of thousands of people have climbed to the top, and hundreds of thousands more have used the monument as a landmark. Not only is the Washington Monument a memorial to our first president, but it has been a witness to numerous events on the National Mall. The monument stood as a backdrop to the Civil Rights demonstrations in the 1960s and played a key part in the 1963 March on Washington. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the monument’s grounds were used as a rallying point for both anti-Vietnam War protestors and the National Guard. For the nation’s bicentennial, the monument was the centerpiece of a fireworks display. And in 1987 an AIDS quilt with the names of those who had died was displayed on the National Mall with the Washington Monument standing in the background. Most recently, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, a life-sized image of the Saturn V rocket that took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins into outer space was projected onto the Washington Monument. The monument has borne witness to innumerable events in Washington, D.C., and it will bear witness to countless more.

The Washington Monument served as a visual marker for those that participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963.

Sara Murphy is a museum specialist and collections manager in the Division of Political and Military History. She has previously blogged about how first families have memorialized and mourned and about the process of exhibition installation.

Constitution Daily

The iconic Washington Monument is celebrating its birthday today. Learn how it took 40 years to complete the project, and the surprising connections it has to the Pope, Abraham Lincoln, and the Constitution.

The Washington Monument officially was dedicated on February 21, 1885. In a speech written for that event by Robert Winthrop, who attended the groundbreaking ceremony in 1845, there was one memorable line: &ldquoAn earthquake may shake its foundations &hellip but the character which it commemorates and illustrates is secure.&rdquo

That&rsquos not the only interesting fact or coincidence about the iconic monument. Here are 10 more fascinating facts about this American symbol.

1. James Madison had an early role in getting the monument project started. In 1833, the Washington National Monument Society, a private organization, was among early groups promoting the idea for the tribute to the first President. Madison along with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall started the society.

2. The first monument design featured a rotunda and a Roman-like George Washington. The initial winning bid came from architect Robert Mills, whose designed a flat-topped obelisk with a statue of Washington in a chariot, along with statues of 30 Founding Fathers. The current obelisk design was proposed in 1876.

3. The Masons and the Pope were involved with the monument. Yes, the Free Masons were involved in the cornerstone ceremony and they used Washington&rsquos Masonic symbols in the ceremony. At the 1848 ceremony were 20,000 people, and a container that held copies of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and other objects was buried in the cornerstone.

4. Abraham Lincoln was at the 1848 cornerstone ceremony. The guest list included three James Buchanan, Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Dolley Madison and Alexander Hamilton&rsquos widow, Betsey Hamilton, and of course, the then-current President, James K. Polk.

5. So how does the Pope fit into all of this? The Society asked for people to donate ceremonial stones as part of the construction process. Pope Pius IX donated a memorial stone of marble, which infuriated the anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party. The Know-Nothings got their revenge by rigging the leadership election for the Washington National Monument Society. Congress cut off monument funding for 5 years until the Know Nothings left the group.

6. Nothing happened to the monument for a 22-year period. After the Know-Nothing takeover in the 1850s, the monument became stalled to the point that it was used as a slaughter yard and cattle pen during the Civil War. Congress took over the project in 1876.

7. It took the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get the job done. The Engineers worked with Lt. Col. Thomas Lincoln Casey to modify the original ornate plans. The monument&rsquos stripped-down, lean look was part of a cost-cutting effort. On December 6, 1884, an aluminum cap used as a lightning-protection device was placed on top. In February 1885, the dedication ceremony took place.

8. The Monument was the world&rsquos tallest building when it was dedicated. The Washington Monument as dedicated stood at 555 feet 5 inches tall. The Cologne Cathedral had been the world&rsquos tallest man-made structure. The Eiffel Tower soon surpassed the Monument.

9. The Monument is an engineering marvel. The Monument&rsquos marble blocks are held together by just gravity and friction, and no mortar was used in the process.

10. The Washington Monument: Movie star. Nothing says &ldquolocation shot&rdquo in a film like the Washington Monument, especially when the icon is under attack from aliens and terrorists, or used as a backdrop in a thriller or mystery. But maybe the most memorable appearance, in a real-life moment, occurred in August 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on the mall in Washington, with the Lincoln Memorial stage facing the Monument.

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Why is the Washington Monument two different colors?

The Washington Monument was the first monument built on the National Mall. The Washington National Monument Society was established in 1833 as a private company responsible for raising money to build the monument. The original design by Robert Mills featured an imposing obelisk sitting on an elaborate base decorated with patriotic symbols that looked like the Roman Pantheon. At a cost of $1.2 million, Mills wanted the Monument to stand as the tallest in the world, worthy of the first president and ideals of the new nation. This design was modified leaving the obelisk that stands today.

In 1855, the Washington National Monument Society ran out of money 7 years after the cornerstone was laid. Congress then gave $200,000 to the Society who encouraged any and all organizations to donate commemorative stones. When the Vatican donated a stone, the Know Nothings, a conservative anti-Catholic political party, objected and stole the block. They took control of the Monument Society and Congress took back its $200,000. Construction stopped in 1856. Capped with a wooden roof, the partially finished obelisk sat unchanged for nearly 20 years.

Following the Civil War the Washington Monument Society resumed work, lobbying Congress to appropriate money to complete the Monument. In 1876, Congress, agreed that "at this the beginning of the second century of national existence, [we] do assume and direct the completion of the Washington Monument." No longer dependent on private organizations and donations, construction resumed.

When construction resumed, new stones for the Monument came from new quarries. In 1876, white marble from a different Maryland quarry combined with granite from several quarries in New England to create stones that completed the Monument. Once finished in 1885, the stones appeared to be the same color. Environmental elements aged the marbles differently, so now we see a distinct difference in stone colors on the Monument. These differences are a visible reminder that building a monument on public space is never without controversy.

While many Americans were pleased when construction on the Washington Monument finally resumed, others were not. Following the Civil War, monuments and memorials were built in Washington and many other cities across the US. Construction on the Washington Monument finished in 1885 during this memorial mania. The humor magazine Puck published this cartoon proclaiming, "No more of those hideous monuments!" poking fun of the Washington Monument's design, depicting it as if it were an unattractive smokestack. The Monument finally opened to the public in 1888.

Explore other questions about&hellip

Histories of the National Mall was developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media , George Mason University with generous funding from the National Endowment from the Humanities. Content licensed under CC-BY.

Although plans for the monument began during Washington’s lifetime, construction was delayed until several decades after his death as a result of protracted debate over the intentions, location, and design most fitting for this key emblem of the new nation. Ώ]

The initial plan for the monument, authorized by the Continental Congress in 1783, was for a bronze equestrian statue with “the general to be represented in Roman dress, holding a truncheon in his right hand.” ΐ] The statue and its support (a marble pedestal ornamented with bas-relief panels representing scenes from the Revolutionary War) were to occupy a central position at the convergence of two central axes in Pierre-Charles L’Enfant’s 1791 plan of Washington, DC, and would be “executed by the best Artist in Europe, under the superintendence of the Minister of the United States at the Court of Versailles.” Α]

After Washington’s death in 1799, Congress debated alternative schemes for the monument, including a grand mausoleum enshrining the President’s remains. Β] Finally, in 1833, a group of private citizens formed the Washington National Monument Society for the purpose of erecting a memorial “whose dimensions and magnificence shall be commensurate with the greatness and gratitude of the nation which gave him birth [and] whose splendor will be without parallel in the world.” Γ] In 1845 the Society accepted a design submitted by the American architect Robert Mills, whose previous memorial projects included a monument to Washington in the city of Baltimore. Returning to an architectural form he had suggested for the Bunker Hill Monument in 1825, Mills proposed a 600-foot Egyptian-style marble obelisk encircled by a colonnaded Greek temple replete with statuary, ornamental relief sculptures, and murals representing historical events. Δ]

Construction began in 1848 but came to a halt from 1854 to 1877 owing to lack of funds, the Civil War, and other difficulties. By then, Mills’s design had been radically simplified for aesthetic as well as financial reasons [Fig. 1]. When construction resumed under the supervision of Col. Thomas Lincoln Casey (1831�) of the Army Corps of Engineers, all decorative elements and inscriptions were eliminated and the height of the monument was scaled back to just over 555 feet, 5 inches. Ε] Nevertheless, upon completion in 1884, the Washington Monument was the tallest built structure in the world and it remains the tallest building in Washington, DC Ζ]

Watch the video: Top 10 Reasons NOT to Move to Seattle, Washington (June 2022).