The Washington Monument was built between 1848 and 1884 as a memorial to George Washington, first President of the United States. Its construction took place in two major phases, 1848-56, and 1876-84--the Civil War and a lack of funds causing the intermittent hiatus. Plans for a national monument began as early as 1783 when Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant proposed to Congress that an equestrian statue of George Washington be erected. Although the Monument was authorized by Congress, no action was taken by the time Washington died in 1799. His death rekindled public aspiration for an appropriate memorial to him, and John Marshall proposed that a special sepulcher be erected for the General within the Capitol itself. Lack of funds postponed construction, but Marshall persevered, and in 1833 he and James Madison formed the Washington National Monument Society. By 1836 the Society advertised for competitive architectural designs. The winning architect was Robert Mills, whose design called for a neoclassical plan which provided for a nearly-flat-topped obelisk surrounded by a circular colonnade on which would stand a statue of Washington in a chariot. Inside the colonnade statues of 30 prominent Revolutionary War heroes would be displayed.
In an elaborate Fourth of July ceremony in 1848, the cornerstone was laid. Lack of funds and the illegal election which placed the Washington Monument Society in the hands of the Know-Nothings, a political party, caused delays. After the Know Nothings returned all records to the original society in 1858, the Civil War interrupted construction. When Lt.Col.Thomas L.Casey, Mills' successor, resumed the project in 1876, he redesigned the monument to resemble an unadorned Egyptian obelisk with a pointed pyramidion. The original design was greatly altered, producing an unembellished obelisk. The Corps of Engineers of the War Department was placed in charge of the final construction, and the monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885, and opened to the public on October 9, 1888.
Weighing 90,854 tons, the Washington Monument stands 555' 5-1/8" tall. The walls of the monument range in thickness from 15' at the base to 18'' at the upper shaft. They are composed of white marble from Maryland and Massachusetts, underlain by granite, the whole supported by interior ironwork. A slight color change is perceptible at the 152' -level. A flight of 897 steps rises to the observation area in the pyramidion. Inserted into the interior walls are 192 carved stones presented by individuals, societies, cities, States, and nations of the world. An elevator takes visitors to the top, where they can gaze over the city from the monument's windows. Buckingham Palace
At 555 feet five and one-eighth inches, the Washington Monument is the tallest building in the District of Columbia -- and it's going to stay that way. By law. Not that a law is necessary because of manicured lawns and gardens of the National Mall serve as a buffer to the outside world and enhance this obelisk's monumental presence to visitors. Getting to the top is easy -- wait on line and take the elevator. Getting down you have a choice. You can wait for the elevator again, or if you like a challenge, you can walk down the 897 steps to the bottom. If you've scaled The Monument in London, or Stephansdom in Vienna, this will be a cakewalk; except in the summer which is notoriously uncomfortable. The public has not always been welcome at the Washington Monument. It wasn't until October of 1888 that visitors were allowed inside. That's because the interior wasn't quite done. The stairwell wasn't finished at the same time as the outside of the monument, and the construction elevator had to be converted into a passenger elevator. In a sense, people were lucky to go inside at all. Construction on began in 1848, but stopped in 1854 when it was just 152 feet tall. The Civil War had broken out, and all efforts were shifted to restoring the Union. The grounds of the Washington Monument were used for drill practice by troops, grazing cattle, and a slaughterhouse. This Union seemed solid enough when the cornerstone was laid. Every U.S. state, U.S. territory, Indian nation, foreign country, civic group, and private organization was invited to contribute a memorial stone to become part of the walls. After the war in 1876, the Army Corps of Engineers was given the task of completing the now abandoned monument. They determined that the foundation was inadequate to support the original 600 foot design, and scaled the obelisk back to 555 feet. You can clearly see where the pre-Civil War construction ended and the postwar construction began. The monument up to 152 feet is marble from a quarry near Baltimore, Maryland. This is topped by three feet of marble from Massachusetts, then the monument is completed with marble from another Baltimore quarry. The stone was all of the same type, but because it didn't come from the same seam, it weathered differently. At the top is a nine-inch tall aluminum pyramid. At the time, aluminum was a precious metal and this was the largest piece ever made. It is probably more precious to David G. Morris. He is the only person to ever jump over the Washington Monument. During a 1934 renovation he was on a scaffolding at the top of the obelisk. Three feet of the monument was poking out through the floor, so he took the opportunity to leap over it.
In 1833 Robert Mills, at the time the Architect of Public Buildings for the federal government, won the design competition sponsored by the Washington National Monument Society. His 555-foot-tall obelisk, a mixture of Greek, Babylonian, and Egyptian styles, took nearly 40 years to complete as construction was interrupted by cash shortfalls and the Civil War. For several years it was the world’s tallest structure.
In 1996, the Washington Monument Restoration Project was kicked off with Target Stores joining the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation to help restore this national treasure. Guaranteeing $1 million, Target served as the lead sponsor working with the foundation to raise awareness and an additional $4 million in donations from corporate partners. The restoration included constructing scaffolding for the entire 555-foot, 5 1/8-inch monument; sealing 500 feet of exterior and interior stone cracks; pointing 64,000 linear feet of exterior joints; cleaning 59,000 square feet of interior wall surface; sealing eight observation windows and eight aircraft warning lights; repairing 1,000 square feet of chipped and patched stone; pointing 3,900 linear feet of interior joints; and preserving and restoring 192 interior commemorative stones. The projected was completed in 2000.
When the monument opened, it was the responsibility of the War Department.
Abraham Lincoln, then a little-known congressman, attended the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone.
A block of marble from the Temple of Concord in Rome was once embedded in the base of the monument. It was a gift from Pope Pius IX, and was stolen on 6 March, 1854. Some say it was broken up and destroyed. Others believe it was thrown into the Potomac River. No one was ever convicted of the crime,widely believed to have been carried out by a now-defunct anti-Catholic political party.
The monument weighs 90,854 tons.
The monument's capstone weighs 3,300 pounds.
On the inside, the first 452 feet of the monument is reinforced with granite from Maine.
There are lightning rods on top of the monument to protect it from electrical storms.
The lightning suppression system runs down the stairwell.
In 1908 Charles Street, a catcher for the Washington Senators was the first person to catch a baseball thrown from the top of the monument.
In September, 1880 a cat leapt from the 160-foot level of the monument. It survived the fall. But there is a legend that it was killed a short time later by a nearby dog.
21 February, 2002 - After a US$10,500,000.00 renovation, the monument reopens to the public. The first people to get tours of the refurbished landmark were children from Anthony Bowen Elementary School.