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The Washington Monument is an obelisk near the west end of the National Mallmarker in Washington, D.C.marker, built to commemorate the first U.S. president, General George Washington. The monument, made of marble, granite, and sandstone, is both the world's tallest stone structure and the world's tallest obelisk, standing .There are other monumental columns (which are neither all stone nor true obelisks) which are taller.It is also the tallest structure in Washington D.C.. It was designed by Robert Mills, an architect of the 1840s. The actual construction of the monument began in 1848 but was not completed until 1884, almost 30 years after the architect's death. This hiatus in construction happened because of co-option by the Know Nothing party, a lack of funds, and the intervention of the American Civil War. A difference in shading of the marble, visible approximately 150 feet or 27%) up, shows where construction was halted for a number of years. The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848; the capstone was set on December 6, 1884, and the completed monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885. It officially opened October 9, 1888. Upon completion, it became the world's tallest structure, a title previously held by the Cologne Cathedralmarker. The monument held this designation until 1889, when the Eiffel Towermarker was completed in Parismarker, Francemarker. The monument stands due east of the Reflecting Poolmarker and the Lincoln Memorialmarker.



Among the Founding Fathers of the United States, George Washington earned the title "Father of the Country" in recognition of his leadership in the cause of American independence. Appointed as commander of the Continental Army in 1775, he molded a fighting force that won independence from Great Britainmarker. In 1787, as president of the Constitutional Convention, he helped guide the deliberations to form a government that has lasted for more than 200 years. Two years later he was unanimously elected the President of the United States. Washington defined the Presidency and helped develop the relationships among the three branches of government. He established precedents which successfully launched the new government on its course. He refused the trappings of power and veered from monarchical government and traditions and twice—despite considerable pressure to do otherwise—gave up the most powerful position in the Americas. Washington remained ever mindful of the ramifications of his decisions and actions. With this monument the citizens of the United Statesmarker show their enduring gratitude and respect.

When the Revolutionary War ended, no one in the United States commanded more respect than Washington. Americans celebrated his ability to win the war despite limited supplies and inexperienced men, and they admired his decision to refuse a salary and accept only reimbursements for his expenses. Their regard increased further when it became known that he had rejected a proposal by some of his officers to make him king of the new country. It was not only what Washington did but the way he did it: Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, described him as "polite with dignity, affable without familiarity, distant without haughtiness, grave without austerity, modest, wise, and good."Washington retired to his plantation at Mount Vernonmarker after the war, but he soon had to decide whether to return to public life. As it became clear the Articles of Confederation had left the federal government too weak to levy taxes, regulate trade, or control its borders, men such as James Madison began calling for a convention that would strengthen its authority. Washington was reluctant to attend because he had business affairs to manage at Mount Vernon. If he did not go to Philadelphiamarker, however, he worried about his reputation and about the future of the country. He finally decided that, since "to see this nation happy... is so much the wish of my soul," he would serve as one of Virginiamarker's representatives. The other delegates during the summer of 1787 chose him to preside over their deliberations, which ultimately produced the U.S. Constitution.

A key part of the Constitution was the development of the office of president of the United States. No one seemed more qualified to fill that position than Washington, and in 1789 he began the first of his two terms. He used the nation's respect for him to develop respect for this new office, but he simultaneously tried to quiet fears that the president would become as powerful as the king the new country had fought against. He tried to create the kind of solid government he thought the nation needed, supporting a national bank, collecting taxes to pay for expenses, and strengthening the Army and Navy. Though many people wanted him to stay for a third term, in 1797 he again retired to Mount Vernon.Washington died suddenly two years later. His death restarted attempts to honor him. As early as 1783, the Continental Congress had resolved "That an equestrian statue of George Washington be erected at the place where the residence of Congress shall be established." The proposal called for engraving on the statue which explained it had been erected "in honor of George Washington, the illustrious Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States of America during the war which vindicated and secured their liberty, sovereignty, and independence."

Ten days after Washington's death, a Congressional committee recommended a different type of monument. John Marshall, a Representative from Virginia (who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Courtmarker) proposed that a tomb be erected within the Capitolmarker. But a lack of funds, disagreement over what type of memorial would best honor the country's first president, and the Washington family's reluctance to move his body prevented progress on any project.


Progress towards a memorial finally began in 1832. That year, which marked the 100th anniversary of Washington's birth, a large group of concerned citizens formed the Washington National Monument Society. They began collecting donations, much in the way Blodgett had suggested. By the middle of the 1830s, they had raised over $28,000 ($ in 2009 dollars ) and announced a competition for the design of the memorial.

On September 23, 1835, the board of managers of the society described their expectations:

The society held a competition for designs in 1836. The winner, architect Robert Mills, was well-qualified for the commission. The citizens of Baltimoremarker had chosen him to build a monument to Washington, and he had designed a tall Greek column surmounted by a statue of the President. Mills also knew the capital well, having just been chosen Architect of Public Buildings for Washington.

His design called for a tall obelisk—an upright, four-sided pillar that tapers as it rises—with a nearly flat top. He surrounded the obelisk with a circular colonnade, the top of which would feature Washington standing in a chariot. Inside the colonnade would be statues of 30 prominent Revolutionary War heroes.

One part of Mills elaborate design that was built was the doorway surmounted by an Egyptian-style Winged sun. It was removed when construction resumed after 1884. A photo can be seen in The Egyptian Revival by Richard G. Carrot.

Yet criticism of Mills' design and its estimated price tag of more than $1 million (over $21 million in 2008 dollars) caused the society to hesitate. In 1848, its members decided to start building the obelisk and to leave the question of the colonnade for later. They believed that if they used the $87,000 they had already collected to start work, the appearance of the monument would spur further donations that would allow them to complete the project.


Monument plans and timeline of construction.

The Washington Monument was originally intended to be located at the point at which a line running directly south from the center of the White Housemarker crossed a line running directly west from the center of the Capitolmarker. Pierre Charles L'Enfant's 1791 "Plan of the city intended for the permanent seat of t(he) government of the United States ..." designated this point as the location of the equestrian statue of George Washington that the Continental Congress had voted for in 1783.Peter Charles L'Enfant's "Plan of the city intended for the permanent seat of the government of t(he) United States ...." in official website of the U.S. Library of Congress Accessed October 22, 2009. Freedom Plazamarker in downtown Washington, D.C., contains an inlay of the central portion of L'Enfant's plan and of its legends. However, the ground at the intended location proved to be too unstable to support a structure as heavy as the planned obelisk. The Jefferson Piermarker, a small monolith WNW of the Monument, now stands at the intended site of the structure.

Excavation for the foundation of the Monument began in early 1848. The cornerstone was laid as part of an elaborate Fourth of July ceremony hosted by the Freemasons, a worldwide fraternal organization to which Washington belonged. Speeches that day showed the country continued to revere Washington. One celebrant noted, "No more Washingtons shall come in our time ... But his virtues are stamped on the heart of mankind. He who is great in the battlefield looks upward to the generalship of Washington. He who grows wise in counsel feels that he is imitating Washington. He who can resign power against the wishes of a people, has in his eye the bright example of Washington."

Construction continued until 1854, when donations ran out. The next year, Congress voted to appropriate $200,000 to continue the work but rescinded before the money could be spent. This reversal came because of a new policy the society had adopted in 1849. It had agreed, after a request from some Alabamiansmarker, to encourage all states and territories to donate commemorative stones that could be fitted into the interior walls. Members of the society believed this practice would make citizens feel they had a part in building the monument, and it would cut costs by limiting the amount of stone that had to be bought. Blocks of Marylandmarker marble, granite and sandstone steadily appeared at the site. American Indian tribes, professional organizations, societies, businesses and foreign nations donated stones that were 4 feet by 2 feet by 12–18 inches (1.2 m by 0.6 m by 0.3 – 0.5 m). One stone was donated by the Ryūkyū Kingdommarker and brought back by Commodore Matthew C. Perry, but never arrived in Washington (it was replaced in 1989). Many of the stones donated for the monument, however, carried inscriptions which did not commemorate George Washington. For example, one from the Templars of Honor and Temperance stated "We will not buy, sell, or use as a beverage, any spiritous or malt liquors, Wine, Cider, or any other Alcoholic Liquor." It was just one commemorative stone that started the events that stopped the Congressional appropriation and ultimately construction altogether. In the early 1850s, Pope Pius IX contributed a block of marble. In March 1854, members of the anti-Catholic, nativist American Party—better known as the "Know-Nothings"—stole the Pope's stone as a protest and supposedly threw it into the Potomac (it was replaced in 1982). Then, in order to make sure the monument fit the definition of "American" at that time, the Know-Nothings conducted an election so they could take over the entire society" . Congress immediately rescinded its $200,000 contribution.
The Know-Nothings retained control of the society until 1858, adding 13 courses of masonry to the monument—all of which was of such poor quality it was later removed. Unable to collect enough money to finish work, they increasingly lost public support. The Know-Nothings eventually gave up and returned all records to the original society, but the stoppage in construction continued into, then after, the Civil War.

Interest in the monument grew after the Civil War ended. Engineers studied the foundation several times to see whether it remained strong enough. In 1876, the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence, Congress agreed to appropriate another $200,000 to resume construction. The monument, which had stood for nearly 20 years at less than one-third of its proposed height, now seemed ready for completion.

Before work could begin again, however, arguments about the most appropriate design resumed. Many people thought a simple obelisk, one without the colonnade, would be too bare. Architect Mills was reputed to have said omitting the colonnade would make the monument look like "a stalk of asparagus"; another critic said it offered "little... to be proud of."
McLaughlin setting the aluminum tip.
This attitude led people to submit alternative designs. Both the Washington National Monument Society and Congress held discussions about how the monument should be finished. The society considered five new designs, concluding that the one by William Wetmore Story seemed "vastly superior in artistic taste and beauty." Congress deliberated over those five as well as Mills' original; while it was deciding, it ordered work on the obelisk to continue. Finally, the members of the society agreed to abandon the colonnade and alter the obelisk so it conformed to classical Egyptianmarker proportions.

Construction resumed in 1879 under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Casey redesigned the foundation, strengthening it so it could support a structure that ultimately weighed more than 40,000 tons. He then followed the society's orders and figured out what to do with the commemorative stones that had accumulated. Though many people ridiculed them, Casey managed to install most of the stones in the interior walls—one stone was found at the bottom of the elevator shaft in 1951. One difficulty that is visible to this day is that the builders were unable to find the same quarry stone used in the initial construction and, as a result, the bottom third of the monument is a slightly lighter shade than the rest of the construction.

The building of the monument proceeded quickly after Congress had provided sufficient funding. In four years, it was finally completed, with the 100 ounce (2.85 kg) aluminum tip/lightning-rod being put in place on December 6, 1884. It was the largest single piece of aluminum cast at the time. In 1884 aluminum was as expensive as silver, both $1 per ounce. Over time, however, the price of the metal dropped; the invention of the Hall-Héroult process in 1886 caused the high price of aluminum to permanently collapse. The monument opened to the public on October 9, 1888.


The Monument was formally dedicated on February 22 (Washington's birthday), 1885. Over 800 people attended to hear speeches by Ohio senator John Sherman, William Wilson Corcoran (of the Washington National Monument Society), Thomas Lincoln Casey of the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. President Chester Arthur. After the speeches General William Tecumseh Sherman led a procession, which included the dignitaries and the crowd, to the east main entrance of the Capitol buildingmarker, where President Arthur received passing troops. Then, in the House Chamber, the president, his Cabinet, diplomats and others listened to Representative John Davis Long read a speech given 37 years earlier at the laying of the cornerstone. A final speech was given by Virginia governor John W. Daniel.

Later history

Diagram of the Principal High Buildings of the Old World, 1884.
The Washington Monument is the tallest structure represented.

At the time of its construction, it was the tallest building in the world; it remains the tallest stone structure in the world. It is still the tallest building in Washington, D.C.; the Heights of Buildings Act of 1910 restricts new building heights to no more than greater than the width of the adjacent street. (There is a popular misconception that the law specifically states that no building may be taller than the Washington Monument, but in fact the law makes no mention of it). This monument is vastly taller than the obelisks around the capitals of Europe and in Egyptmarker, but ordinary antique obelisks were quarried as a monolithic block of stone, and were therefore seldom taller than around .
The Washington Monument undergoing renovation in 1999

The Washington Monument brought enormous crowds even before it officially opened. During the six months that followed its dedication, 10,041 people climbed the 897 steps and 50 landings to the top. After the elevator that had been used to raise building materials was altered so that it could carry passengers, the number of visitors grew rapidly. The original elevator was a steam elevator and took 20 minutes to go to the top. Wine and cheese were served to those riding, but only men were allowed on board since the elevator was considered unsafe. If women and children wanted to get to the top, they had to climb the 897 steps and 50 landings. As early as 1888, an average of 55,000 people per month went to the top, and today the Washington Monument has more than 800,000 visitors each year. As with all historic areas administered by the National Park Service, the national memorial was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. The stairs are no longer accessible to the general public due to safety issues and vandalism of the interior commemorative plaques.

For ten hours in December 1982, the Washington Monument was "held hostage" by a nuclear arms protester, Norman Mayer, claiming to have explosives in a van he drove up to the monument's base. Eight tourists trapped in the monument at the time the standoff began were set free, and the incident ended with U.S. Park Police opening fire on Mayer, killing him. The monument was undamaged in the incident, and it was discovered later that Mayer did not have explosives.

The monument underwent extensive renovation between 1998 and 2000. During this time it was completely covered in scaffolding.

Construction details

The completed monument stands tall, with the following construction materials and details:
  • Phase One (1848 to 1858): To the 152-foot (46 m) level, under the direction of Superintendent William Daugherty.
: Exterior: White marble from Texas, Maryland (adjacent to and east of north I-83 near the Warren Road exit in Cockeysvillemarker)
: Exterior: White marble, four courses or rows, from Sheffield, Massachusettsmarker
  • Phase Two (1878 to 1888): Work completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, commanded by Lt. Col. Thomas L. Casey.
: Exterior: White marble from a different Cockeysville quarry.

The cost of the monument was $1,187,710.


The four faces of the pyramidal point all bear inscriptions in cursive letters:

North face West face South face East face
Joint Commission
Setting of Capstone

Chester A.



Corcoran, Chairman


Edward Clark
John Newton

Act of August 2, 1876

Corner Stone Laid on Bed of Foundation
July 4, 1848

First Stone at Height of 152 feet laid
August 7, 1880

Capstone set December 6, 1884

Chief Engineer and Architect,

Lincoln Casey,
Colonel, Corps of Engineers

George W.

Captain, 14th Infantry
Bernard R.

Civil Engineer

Master Mechanic



Laus Deo

Halfway up the steps of the monument is an inscription in (My language, my land, my nation of Wales — Wales for ever). The reason for this inscription and its author are unknown.

Exterior structure

  • Total height of monument:
  • Height from lobby to observation level:
  • Width at base of monument:
  • Width at top of shaft:
  • Thickness of monument walls at base:
  • Thickness of monument walls at observation level:
  • Total weight of monument: 90,854 short tons (82,421 t)
  • Total number of blocks in monument: 36,491
  • Sway of monument in wind:


  • Capstone weight:
  • Capstone cuneiform keystone measures from base to the top
  • Each side of the capstone base:
  • Width of aluminum tip: on each of its four sides
  • Height of aluminum tip from its base:
  • Weight of aluminum tip on capstone: 100 oz (2.85 kg)


  • Depth:
  • Weight: 36,912 short tons (33,486 metric tons)
  • Area:


  • Number of commemorative stones in stairwell: 193
  • Present elevator installed: 1998
  • Present elevator cab installed: 2001
  • Elevator travel time: 70 seconds
  • Number of steps in stairwell: 897
  • Fastest known ascent time via stairs: 6.7 minutes (in 2005)

In popular culture

In The Simpsons episode Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington the Simpsons visit the Washington Monument and Marge giggles, pointing out the resemblance between the monument and something unintelligible she whispers in Homer's ear. Homer reacts in disgust: "Aww, Marge, grow up!" A similar joke is made in the Futurama episode A Taste of Freedom where the Washington Monument is shown next to the Clinton monument, which is similarly shaped, but larger.

In The Simpsons episode "Father Knows Worst", Homer decides to be a helicopter parent and build a school project for Bart. He is going to build the Washington Monument, but Principal Skinner says, "The Washington Monument is the most uninspired model choice there is. It’s like saying, “I don’t care. My kid’s a loser.” Homer ends up building Westminster Abbeymarker instead.

In the video game Fallout 3, the player must travel to the monument to fix an antenna on the monument, which is being used as a signal booster for the local radio station. Unlike the real-life version which is constructed only of masonry stones, the virtual version features an internal skeleton which is exposed and visible to the player.

Similarly the video game Modern Warfare 2 also features the monument with an exposed metal frame. It is seen during an enemy invasion of Washington DC and is being used as a site for the evacuation of civilians. It is possible that this version was inspired by that of Fallout 3.

In the movie 2012, the monument is seen collapsing during a massive earthquake.

In Mars Attacks! the Martians push it over onto a group of Boy Scouts and then push it in the other directions when the Scouts try to get away.

In the movie In The Line Of Fire, Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) and Lilly Raines (Rene Russo) sit on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with the Washington Monument in the background, as Horrigan says the movie's final line: "I know things about pigeons, Lilly."

In the novel The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, the Washington Monument is one of several landmarks that character Robert Langdon visits during the course of the story.

See also



  1. The Washington Monument is the third tallest monumental column in the world after the San Jacinto Monument in Texas and the Juche Tower in North Korea. *The San Jacinto Monument is taller by 11.9 feet (3.6 m), but it is made of reinforced concrete, not stone, even though it has a facade of limestone. *The Juche Tower is taller by less than a meter, but its top 20 meters are metal, not stone.
  2. Richard G. Carrot, The Egyptian Revival, University of California press, 1978 plate 33
  3. Dollar Conversions From 1800 to 2016 Oregon State University.
  4. Kerr, George H. Okinawa: The History of an Island People. (revised ed.) Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2003. p337n.
  5. A History of the Washington Monument: 1844–1968 by George J. Olszewski. April 1971. National Park Service. (Retrieved January 3, 2007).
  6. "Washington Monument". Teaching with Historic Places. National Park Service. (Retrieved October 15, 2006).
  7. The Building Height Act of 1910, codified at D.C. Code § 6-601.05
  8. Washington Monument (Olin Partnership)
  9. Monumental Security (from the American Society of Landscape Architects website, April 10, 2006)
  10. Cleaning up a Classic
  11. "Building Stones of Our Nation's Capital: Washington's Building Stones". United States Geological Survey.
  12. The Washington Monument, A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones page 3.
  13. Washington Monument Capstone
  14. "Presidential connection". Star Spangled Dragon. BBC.
  15. Futurama: A Taste of Freedom
  16. Captain Obvious

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