Washington Monument is an obelisk near the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., built to commemorate the first U.S. president,
General George Washington.
The monument, made of marble
, and sandstone
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
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
was laid on July 4, 1848;
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 Cathedral. The monument held this designation until
1889, when the Eiffel
Tower was completed in Paris, France.
monument stands due east of the Reflecting
Pool and the Lincoln Memorial.
Among the Founding Fathers of the
, George Washington earned the title "Father of the Country
" in recognition
of his leadership in the cause of American independence.
as commander of the Continental
Army in 1775, he molded a fighting force that won independence
In 1787, as president of the Constitutional
, he helped guide the deliberations to form a
government that has lasted for more than 200 years. Two years later
he was unanimously
of the United States
. Washington defined the Presidency and
helped develop the relationships among the three branches
. 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
States show their enduring gratitude and
When the Revolutionary
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
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
Vernon after the war, but he soon had to decide whether to
return to public life.
As it became clear the Articles of Confederation
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 Philadelphia, 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 Virginia'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 Court) proposed that a tomb be erected within the
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
well-qualified for the commission. The citizens of Baltimore had chosen him to build a monument to Washington,
and he had designed a tall Greek
column surmounted by a statue of the President.
also knew the capital well, having just been chosen Architect of
Public Buildings for Washington.
His design called for a tall obelisk
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
. It was removed when construction resumed after 1884. A
photo can be seen in The Egyptian Revival
by Richard G.
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.
Washington Monument was originally intended to be located at the
point at which a line running directly south from the center of the
House crossed a line running directly west from the
center of the Capitol. 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 Plaza in downtown Washington, D.C., contains an inlay of
the central portion of L'Enfant's plan and of its legends.
Monument plans and timeline of
However, the ground at the intended location proved to be too
unstable to support a structure as heavy as the planned obelisk.
Pier, 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
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.
agreed, after a request from some Alabamians, to encourage all states and territories to donate
commemorative stones that could be fitted into the interior
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 Maryland 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
Kingdom 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
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
American Party—better known as
"—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
, 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
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
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 Egyptian proportions.
Construction resumed in 1879 under the direction of Lieutenant
Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
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
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
in 1886 caused the high price of aluminum to
permanently collapse. The monument opened to the public on October
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 Army Corps of
and U.S. President Chester
. 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 building, where President Arthur received passing
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
Diagram of the Principal High
Buildings of the Old World, 1884.
The Washington Monument is the tallest structure
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
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
Egypt, but ordinary antique obelisks were quarried as a
monolithic block of stone, and were therefore seldom taller than
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
, the national memorial was listed on the National Register of
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
, 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
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.
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 Cockeysville)
Exterior: White marble, four courses or rows, from Sheffield,
- 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
The cost of the monument was $1,187,710.
The four faces of the pyramidal point all bear inscriptions in
Setting of Capstone
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,
Colonel, Corps of Engineers
Captain, 14th Infantry
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.
- 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)
- Weight: 36,912 short tons (33,486 metric tons)
- 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
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
. Homer reacts in disgust: "Aww, Marge, grow up!"
similar joke is made in the Futurama
episode A Taste of
where the Washington Monument is shown next to the
monument, which is similarly
shaped, but larger.
In The Simpsons
"Father Knows Worst"
Homer decides to be a helicopter
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 Abbey 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
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
In the movie 2012
, the monument
is seen collapsing during a massive earthquake.
In Mars Attacks!
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
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
, the Washington Monument is one
of several landmarks that character Robert Langdon visits during
the course of the story.
- 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.
- Richard G. Carrot, The Egyptian Revival, University of
California press, 1978 plate 33
- Dollar Conversions From 1800 to 2016 Oregon State
- Kerr, George H. Okinawa: The History of an Island
People. (revised ed.) Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2003.
- A History of the Washington Monument:
1844–1968 by George J. Olszewski. April 1971. National
Park Service. (Retrieved January 3, 2007).
- "Washington Monument". Teaching with Historic
Places. National Park Service. (Retrieved October 15,
- The Building Height Act of 1910, codified at D.C. Code §
- Washington Monument (Olin Partnership)
- Monumental Security (from the American Society of
Landscape Architects website, April 10, 2006)
- Washingtonpost.com: Cleaning up a Classic
- "Building Stones of Our Nation's Capital: Washington's
Building Stones". United States Geological
- The Washington Monument, A Technical History
and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones page 3.
- Washington Monument Capstone
- "Presidential connection". Star Spangled
- Futurama: A Taste of Freedom
- Captain Obvious