wash-monument-2The Washington Monument is located at the west end of the National Mall in Washington, DC, and honors the first President of the United States, George Washington (1732-1799). It is a tall, four-sided stone structure called an obelisk, and it is modeled after classical monuments found in ancient cultures.

The monument is the tallest structure in the city limits, with the exception of radio towers. It measures 555 feet 5 1/8 inches (169.29 meters) high. There is an elevator inside the monument that travels up to an observation room inside the pyramid at the top; from there, visitors can look out at views that include the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Jefferson Memorial, and the U.S. Capitol Building.

The original design for the monument called for a much more elaborate memorial to the first President. It included a round colonnade with statues and columns at the base of the obelisk. The architect, Robert Mills, had also designed the monument to Washington that is now in Baltimore that was completed in 1829. Mills’ original design for the monument changed greatly over the years; the original ornate design was eventually changed to the simple obelisk.

The cornerstone for the monument was laid on July 4, 1848, with many historic individuals in attendance. By the year 1854, the monument was built up to 156 feet above ground. The Washington National Monument Society, which had funded construction, went bankrupt in 1854, and Robert Mills passed away in 1855. But with the country slowing building toward the Civil War (1861-1865), construction was halted.

Finally, Congress passed a joint resolution in 1876 to resume funding and construction of the monument. But the quarry that produced the original stone was no longer available, so stone from a different quarry was used for some time. Finally, a new quarry was able to provide a higher quality stone, which was used to complete the monument. The differences in stone are still visible today.

On December 6, 1884, the final capstone was brought out through one of the windows of the monument and placed on top, then capped with an aluminum pyramid. The monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885, before the iron staircase inside was complete. After closing for some time, it reopened with a public elevator on October 9, 1888.

On August 23, 2011, an earthquake struck approximately 90 miles outside of Washington, DC. The magnitude 5.8 quake caused cracks in the exterior wall of the monument, and visitors inside the building were impacted by the shaking, although all people exited without injury. The monument was closed for extensive repairs and was eventually reopened on May 12, 2014.

Washington Monument facts and figures:

  • When the cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848, the crowd of 20,000 included President James K. Polk, Dolley (Mrs. James) Madison, Mrs. Alexander Hamilton, George Washington Parke Custis, and future Presidents James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, and Abraham Lincoln.
  • When it was officially dedicated in 1888, it was the tallest structure in the world.
  • It is still the world’s tallest stone structure and the world’s tallest obelisk.
  • There are 36,491 stones in the monument.
  • In the interior walls of the monument there are 193 commemorative stones that were presented by individuals, societies, cities, states, and nations of the world that donated to the monument when it was privately funded.
  • Fifty flags surround the base of the Washington Monument and symbolize the 50 states of the Union.

To learn more, see the Washington Monument site.