Washington Monument

Washington Monument

name =Washington Monument
iucn_category = III

caption =
location = Washington, D.C., United States
nearest_city =
lat_degrees = 38
lat_minutes = 53
lat_seconds = 22
lat_direction = N
long_degrees = 77
long_minutes = 02
long_seconds = 07
long_direction = W
coor_type = landmark_scale:1000
area = 106.01 acres (0.429 km²)
established = January 31, 1848
visitation_num = 467,550
visitation_year = 2005
governing_body = National Park Service
The Washington Monument is a large, tall, sand-colored obelisk near the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It is a United States Presidential Memorial constructed to commemorate 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 ft in to m|ft=555|in=5.5 in height.cite news
publisher=National Park Service, ParkNet
title=The Washington Monument: Tribute in Stone
] 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 ft to m|150 up, clearly delineates the initial construction from its resumption in 1876.

Its 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 it inherited from the Cologne Cathedral and held until 1889, when the Eiffel Tower was finished in Paris, France.

The Washington Monument reflection can be seen in the aptly named Reflecting Pool, a rectangular pool extending to the west toward the Lincoln Memorial.



Above 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 the Kingdom of Great Britain. 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 States show their enduring gratitude and respect.

When the Revolutionary War ended, no man in the United States commanded more respect than George 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 Vernon 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 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."Fact|date=November 2007

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 Capitol. 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 and announced a competition for the design of the memorial.

On September 23, 1835, the board of managers of the society described their expectations:Fact|date=November 2007

The society held a competition for designs in 1836. The winner, architect Robert Mills, was 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. Mills also knew the capital well, having just been chosen Architect of Public Buildings for Washington.

His design called for a 600-foot (183 m) 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 [Richard G. Carrot, The Egyptian Revival, University of California press,1978 plate 33]

Yet criticism of Mills' design and its estimated price tag of more than $1 million (over $21 million in 2008 dollars [ [http://oregonstate.edu/Dept/pol_sci/fac/sahr/cv2000.pdf Dollar Conversions From 1800 to 2016] Oregon State University.] ) 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.


Excavation for the foundation of the Washington Monument began in the spring of 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 Alabamians, to encourage all states and territories to donate memorial 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 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, located at the 220th landing, was donated by the Ryūkyū Kingdom and brought back by Commodore Matthew C. Perry for this purpose [Kerr, George H. "Okinawa: The History of an Island People". (revised ed.) Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2003. p337n.] . Many of the stones donated for the monument, however, carried inscriptions irrelevant to a memorial for 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 memorial 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. 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 Fact|date=February 2007. 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."

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 Egyptian 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 memorial stones that had accumulated. Though many people ridiculed them, Casey managed to install all 193 stones in the interior walls. 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 (2.8 kg) aluminum capstone/'lightning-rod' being put in place on December 6, 1884, during another elaborate dedication ceremony. It was the largest single piece of aluminum cast at the time. At the time of the monument's construction, aluminum was more expensive than silver, gold, or platinum. 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. [ [http://www.nps.gov/archive/wamo/history/chap5.htm "A History of the Washington Monument: 1844–1968"] by George J. Olszewski. April 1971. National Park Service. (Retrieved January 3, 2007).] The monument opened to the public on October 9, 1888. [ [http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/wash/dc72.htm "Washington Monument"] . "Teaching with Historic Places". National Park Service. (Retrieved October 15, 2006).]

Later history

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 ft to m|20 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). [The Building Height Act of 1910, codified at D.C. Code § 6-601.05] 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 around ft to m|100.

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 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 897 steps. 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 memorial 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 and killing him. The monument was undamaged in the incident, and it was discovered later that Mayer did not have explosives. [ [http://www.olinptr.com/project_current_parks1.html Washington Monument] (from the Olin Partnership website)] [ [http://www.asla.org/land/2006/0410/olin.html Monumental Security] (from the American Society of Landscape Architects website, April 10, 2006)] The monument underwent extensive renovation between 1998 and 2000. During this time it was completely covered in scaffolding. [ [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/monument/monument.htm Washingtonpost.com: Cleaning up a Classic] ]

Construction details

The completed monument stands 555 ft 5⅛ in (169.294 m) 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, Massachusetts
* 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. [ [http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/stones/stones4.html "Building Stones of Our Nation's Capital: Washington's Building Stones"] . United States Geological Survey.]
* Interior: Granite from Maine and New Hampshire [ [http://www.nps.gov/archive/wamo/memstone_530.htm "Washington Monument Memorial Stones"] . National Park Service. December 22, 2004.]
* Cap is made from aluminum, at the time a rare metal, more valuable than silver, gold or platinum. The cap was forged by William Frishmuth and a detailed history was printed in [http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/9511/Binczewski-9511.html "JOM"] , a publication of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society. Before the installation it was put on public display and stepped over by visitors who could later say they had "stepped over the top of the Washington Monument".


The four faces of the pyramidal point all bear inscriptions

Halfway up the steps of the monument is an inscription in _cy. Fy iaith, fy ngwlad, fy nghenedl Cymru — Cymru am byth (My language, my land, my nation of Wales — Wales for ever). The reason for this inscription and its author are unknown. [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/northwest/sites/familyhistory/pages/jefferson.shtml "Presidential connection"] . "Star Spangled Dragon". BBC.]

The cost of the monument was $1,187,710.Fact|date=November 2007

Exterior structure

* Total height of monument:

555 ft 5⅛ in (169.294 m or 6,665 in.)

* Height from lobby to observation level:

500 ft (152 m)

* Width at base of monument:

55 ft 1½ in (16.80 m)

* Width at top of shaft:

34 ft 5 in (10.5 m)

* Thickness of monument walls at base:

15 ft (4.6 m)

* Thickness of monument walls at observation level:

18 in (460 mm)

* Total weight of monument:

90,854 short tons (82,421 t)

* Total number of blocks in monument:



* Capstone weight:

3,300 lb (1.65)

* Capstone cuneiform keystone measures 5.16 ft (1.57 m) from base to the top
* Each side of the capstone base: 3 ft (914 mm)
* Width of aluminum tip: 5.6 in (142 mm) on each of its four sides
* Height of aluminum tip at base:

8.9 in (226 mm)

* Weight of aluminum tip on capstone:

100 oz (2.8 kg)


* Depth:

36 ft 10 in (11.23 m)

* Weight:

36,912 short tons (33,486 metric tons)

* Area:

16,001 ft² (1487 m²)


* Number of memorial stones in stairwell: 199
* 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)

See also

* Mount Vernon
* George Washington Masonic National Memorial
* George Washington Memorial Parkway
* List of towers
* Monument
* United States Presidential Memorial
* World's tallest free standing structure on land
* Norman Mayer
* Washington Monument Syndrome
* List of tallest buildings in Washington, D.C.


* "The National Parks: Index 2001–2003". Washington: U.S. Department of the Interior.

External links

* [http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/harp/0221.html "Harper's Weekly" cartoon, February 21, 1885, the day preceding formal dedication]
* Official NPS website: [http://www.nps.gov/wamo Washington Monument]
* [http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/62wash/62wash.htm "The Washington Monument: Tribute in Stone," a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan]
* [http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/displayPhoto.pl?path=/pnp/habshaer/dc/dc0900/dc0968/sheet&top
* [http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/dec06.html Today in History—Dec 6th]
* [http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/9511/Binczewski-9511.html A History of the Aluminum Cap of the Washington Monument]

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