Construction of the monument began in 1848, and was halted from 1854 to 1877 due to a lack of funds, a struggle for control over the Washington National Monument Society, and the intervention of the American Civil War. Although the stone structure was completed in 1884, internal ironwork, the knoll, and other finishing touches were not completed until 1888. A difference in shading of the marble, visible approximately 150 feet (46 m) or 27% up, shows where construction was halted and later resumed with marble from a different source. The original design was by Robert Mills, but he did not include his proposed colonnade due to a lack of funds, proceeding only with a bare obelisk. The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848; the first stone was laid atop the unfinished stump on August 7, 1880; the capstone was set on December 6, 1884; the completed monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885; and officially opened October 9, 1888.
The Washington Monument is a hollow Egyptian style stone obelisk with a 500-foot (152.4 m) tall column and a 55-foot (16.8 m) tall pyramidion. Its walls are 15 feet (4.6 m) thick at its base and 11⁄2 feet (0.46 m) thick at their top. The marble pyramidion has thin walls only 7 inches (18 cm) thick supported by six arches, two between opposite walls that cross at the center of the pyramidion and four smaller corner arches. The top of the pyramidion is a large marble capstone with a small aluminum pyramid at its apex with inscriptions on all four sides. The lowest 150 feet (45.7 m) of the walls, constructed during the first phase 1848–1854, are composed of a pile of bluestone gneiss rubble stones (not finished stones) held together by a large amount of mortar with a facade of semi-finished marble stones about 11⁄4 feet (0.4 m) thick. The upper 350 feet (106.7 m) of the walls, constructed during the second phase 1880–1884, are composed of finished marble surface stones, half of which project into the walls, partially backed by finished granite stones.
The interior is occupied by iron stairs that spiral up the walls, with an elevator in the center, each supported by four iron columns, which do not support the stone structure. The stairs contain fifty sections, most on the north and south walls, with many long landings stretching between them along the east and west walls. These landings allowed many inscribed memorial stones of various materials and sizes to be easily viewed while the stairs were accessible (until 1976), plus one memorial stone between stairs that is difficult to view. The pyramidion has eight observation windows, two per side, and eight red aircraft warning lights, two per side. Two aluminum lightning rods connected via the elevator support columns to ground water protect the monument. The monument's present foundation is 37 feet (11.3 m) thick, consisting of half of its original bluestone gneiss rubble encased in concrete. At the northeast corner of the foundation, 21 feet (6.4 m) below ground, is the marble cornerstone, including a zinc case filled with memorabilia. Fifty American flags fly 24 hours a day on a large circle of flag poles centered on the monument. In 2001, a temporary screening facility was added to the entrance to prevent a terrorist attack. In 2011, an earthquake slightly damaged the monument, mostly the pyramidion.
George Washington (1732–1799), hailed as the father of his country, and as the leader who was "first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen" (in eulogy by Maj. Gen. 'Light-Horse Harry' Lee at Washington's funeral, December 26, 1799), was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. Even his former enemy King George III called him "the greatest character of the age."
At his death in 1799, he left a critical legacy; he exemplified the core ideals of the American Revolution and the new nation: republican virtue and devotion to civic duty. Washington was the unchallenged public icon of American military and civic patriotism. He was also identified with the Federalist Party, which lost control of the national government in 1800 to the Jeffersonian Republicans, who were reluctant to celebrate the hero of the opposition party.
Proposals for a memorial
Starting with victory in the Revolution, there were many proposals to build a monument to Washington. After his death, Congress authorized a suitable memorial in the national capital, but the decision was reversed when the Democratic-Republican Party (Jeffersonian Republicans) took control of Congress in 1801. The Republicans were dismayed that Washington had become the symbol of the Federalist Party; furthermore the values of Republicanism seemed hostile to the idea of building monuments to powerful men. They also blocked his image on coins or the celebration of his birthday. Further political squabbling, along with the North–South division on the Civil War, blocked the completion of the Washington Monument until the late 19th century. By that time, Washington had the image of a national hero who could be celebrated by both North and South, and memorials to him were no longer controversial.
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." Currently, there are two equestrian statues of President Washington in Washington, D.C. One is located in Washington Circle at the intersection of the Foggy Bottom and West End neighborhoods at the north end of the George Washington University, and the other is in the gardens of the National Cathedral.
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 United States) proposed that a tomb be erected within the Capitol. However, 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.
Sketch of the proposed Washington Monument by architect Robert Mills (circa 1836)
Progress toward a memorial finally began in 1833. That year a large group of concerned citizens formed the Washington National Monument Society. In 1836, after they had raised $28,000 in donations (equivalent to $1,000,000 in 2016), they announced a competition for the design of the memorial.:chp 1
On September 23, 1835, the board of managers of the society described their expectations:
It is proposed that the contemplated monument shall be like him in whose honor it is to be constructed, unparalleled in the world, and commensurate with the gratitude, liberality, and patriotism of the people by whom it is to be erected ... [It] should blend stupendousness with elegance, and be of such magnitude and beauty as to be an object of pride to the American people, and of admiration to all who see it. Its material is intended to be wholly American, and to be of marble and granite brought from each state, that each state may participate in the glory of contributing material as well as in funds to its construction.
The society held a competition for designs in 1836. In 1845, the winner was announced to be architect Robert Mills.:2-2 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 circular colonnaded building 250 feet (76 m) in diameter and 100 feet (30 m) high from which sprang a four sided obelisk 500 feet (150 m) high, for a total elevation of 600 feet (180 m). A massive cylindrical pillar 70 feet (21 m) in diameter supported the obelisk at the center of the building. The obelisk was to be 70 feet (21 m) square[C] at the base and 40 feet (12 m) square at the top with a slightly peaked roof. Both the obelisk and pillar were hollow within which a railway spiraled up. The obelisk had no doorway—instead its interior was entered from the interior of the pillar upon which it was mounted. The pillar had an "arched way" at its base. The top of the portico of the building would feature Washington standing in a chariot holding the reins of six horses. Inside the colonnade would be statues of 30 prominent Revolutionary War heroes as well as statues of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.:6–8:13:26–28
Criticism of Mills's design and its estimated price tag of more than $1 million (in 1848, equivalent to $20,000,000 in 2016) caused the society to hesitate. On April 11, 1848 the society decided, due to a lack of funds, to build only the obelisk. Mills's 1848 obelisk was to be 500 feet tall, 55 feet (17 m) square at the base and 35 feet (11 m) square at the top. It had two massive doorways, each 15 feet (4.6 m) high and 6 feet (1.8 m) wide, on the east and west sides of its base.:15, 21 Surrounding each doorway were raised jambs, a heavy pediment, and entablature within which was carved an Egyptian-style winged sun and asps.:23:353+ Some of these details can be seen in the 1860 photograph below at Donations run out, after clicking on the image and viewing the original file at its highest magnification. This original design conformed to a massive temple which was to have surrounded the base of the obelisk, but because it was never built, the architect of the second phase of construction Thomas Lincoln Casey smoothed down the projecting jambs, pediment and entablature in 1885, walled up the west entrance with marble forming an alcove, and reduced the east entrance to 8 feet (2.4 m) high.:90–91 The western alcove has contained a bronze statue of Washington since 1992–93. Also during 1992–93 a limestone surround was installed at the east elevator entrance decorated with a winged sun and asps to mimic Mills's 1848 design.
West side of Jefferson Pier with Washington Monument in background
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 House crossed a line running directly west from the center of the Capitol. Pierre (Peter) Charles L'Enfant's 1791 "Plan of the city intended for the permanent seat of the 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.[D] The ground at the intended location proved to be too unstable to support a structure as heavy as the planned obelisk, so the monument's location was moved 390 feet (118.9 m) east-southeast.[E] At that originally intended site there now stands a small monolith called the Jefferson Pier. This offset caused the McMillan Plan to specify that the Lincoln Memorial should be "placed on the main axis of the Capitol and the Monument", about 1° south of due west of the Capitol or the monument, not due west of the Capitol or the monument.[F]
Excavation and initial construction
Construction of the monument began in 1848 with the excavation of the site, the laying of the cornerstone on the prepared bed, and laying the original foundation around and on top of the cornerstone, before the construction of its massive walls began the next year. Even though unpaid slave labor is not explicitly mentioned by Louis Torres or any other source, it would have been needed to augment the small paid labor force of skilled and unskilled workers totaling, for example, only 57 in 1849,:18 compared to the peak total of 170 paid workers during the second phase of construction (1879–1884).:66 Washington Monument Historian John Steele Gordon stated "I can't say for certain, but the stonemasonry was pretty highly skilled, so it's unlikely that slaves would've been doing it. The stones were cut by stonecutters, which is highly skilled work; and the stones were hoisted by means of steam engines, so you'd need a skilled engineer and foreman for stuff like that. Tending the steam engine, building the cast-iron staircase inside—that wasn't grunt work." According to historian Jesse Holland, it is very likely that African-American slaves were among the construction workers, given that slavery prevailed in Washington and its surrounding states at that time, and slaves were commonly used in public and private construction.
Gordon's arguments are valid for the second phase (1879–1884) when every stone laid required a skilled stonemason. However, Holland's views are valid for the first phase (1848–1854) because most of its construction only required unskilled manual labor, assisted only by a steam engine to lift the stones because many weighed several tons each. Only a small number of stones used in the first phase required a skilled stonemason, the marble blocks on the outer surface of the monument (their inner surfaces were left very rough) and those gneiss stones that form the rough inner walls of the monument (all other surfaces of those inner stones within the walls were left jagged). The vast majority of all gneiss stones laid during the first phase, those between the outer and inner surfaces of the walls, from very large to very small jagged stones, form a pile of rubble held together by a large amount of mortar. The top surface of this rubble can be seen below at Walls in an 1880 drawing made just before the polished/rough marble and granite stones used in the second phase were laid atop it. The original foundation below the walls was made of layered gneiss rubble, but without the massive stones used within the walls. Most of the gneiss stones used during the first phase were obtained from quarries in the Potomac Valley. Almost all the marble stones of the first and second phases came from two Maryland quarries about 20 miles (30 km) north of downtown Baltimore.
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.
The partially completed monument, photographed by Mathew Brady; circa 1860
Construction continued until 1854, when donations ran out and the monument had reached a height of 152 feet (46.3 m). At that time a memorial stone that was contributed by Pope Pius IX, called the Pope's Stone, was destroyed by members of the anti-Catholic, nativist American Party, better known as the "Know-Nothings", during the early morning hours of March 6, 1854 (a priest replaced it in 1982 using the Latin phrase "A Roma Americae" instead of the original stone's English phrase "Rome to America"). This caused public contributions to the Washington National Monument Society to cease, so they appealed to Congress for money.:25–26:16, 215, 222–3
The request had just reached the floor of the House of Representatives when the Know-Nothing Party seized control of the Society on February 22, 1855. Congress immediately tabled its expected contribution of $200,000 to the Society, effectively halting the appropriation. During its tenure, the Know-Nothing Society added only two courses of masonry, or four feet, to the monument using rejected masonry it found on site, increasing the height of the shaft to 156 feet. The original Society refused to recognize the illegal takeover, so two Societies existed side by side until 1858. With the Know-Nothing Party disintegrating and its inability to secure contributions toward building the monument, it surrendered its possession of the monument to the original Society on October 20, 1858. To prevent future takeovers, Congress incorporated the Society on February 22, 1859.:chp 3:52–65
Interest in the monument grew after the Civil War. Engineers studied the foundation several times to determine if it was strong enough. In 1876, the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence, Congress agreed to appropriate another $200,000 to resume construction.
Before work could begin again, 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."
Monument plans and timeline of construction
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's 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. The first stone atop the unfinished stump was laid August 7, 1880 in a small ceremony attended by President Rutherford B. Hayes, Casey and a few others. The president placed a small coin on which he had scratched his initials and the date in the bed of wet cement at the 150-foot level before the first stone was laid on top of it.:76 Casey found 92 memorial stones ("presented stones") already inlaid into the interior walls of the first phase of construction. Before construction continued he temporarily removed eight stones at the 150-foot level so that the walls at that level could be sloped outward, producing thinner second-phase walls. He inserted those stones and most of the remaining memorial stones stored in the lapidarium into the interior walls during 1885–1889.:11–17 The bottom third of the monument is a slightly lighter shade than the rest of the construction because the marble was obtained from different quarries.
P.H. McLaughlin setting the aluminum apex with Thomas Lincoln Casey (hands up)
The Washington Monument almost complete around 1884
The building of the monument proceeded quickly after Congress had provided sufficient funding. In four years, it was completed, with the 100-ounce (2.83 kg) aluminum apex/lightning-rod being put in place on December 6, 1884. The apex was the largest single piece of aluminum cast at the time, when aluminum commanded a price comparable to silver. Two years later, the Hall–Héroult process made aluminum easier to produce and the price of aluminum plummeted, though it should have provided a lustrous, non-rusting apex.[G] The monument opened to the public on October 9, 1888.
I do now .... in behalf of the people, receive this monument .... and declare it dedicated from this time forth to the immortal name and memory of George Washington.
After the speeches Lieutenant-General Philip Sheridan led a procession, which included the dignitaries and the crowd, past the Executive Mansion, now the White House, then via Pennsylvania Avenue to the east main entrance of the Capitol, 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 written a few months earlier by Robert C. Winthrop, formerly the Speaker of the House of Representatives when the cornerstone was laid 37 years earlier, but now too ill to personally deliver his speech.:234–260 A final speech was given by John W. Daniel of Virginia. The festivities concluded that evening with fireworks, both aerial and ground displays.:260–285
Diagram of the Principal High Buildings of the Old World, 1884. The Washington Monument is the tallest structure represented.
At the time of its completion, it was the tallest building in the world, a title it retained until the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889. It is the tallest building in Washington, D.C. The Heights of Buildings Act of 1910 restricts new building heights to no more than 20 feet (6.1 m) greater than the width of the adjacent street. This monument is vastly taller than the obelisks around the capitals of Europe and in Egypt and Ethiopia, but ordinary antique obelisks were quarried as a monolithic block of stone, and were therefore seldom taller than approximately 100 feet (30 m).
The Washington Monument attracted enormous crowds before it officially opened. For six months after its dedication, 10,041 people climbed the 900 steps and 47 large landings to the top. After the elevator that had been used to raise building materials was altered to carry passengers, the number of visitors grew rapidly, and an average of 55,000 people per month were going to the top by 1888. The annual visitor count peaked at an average of 1.1 million between 1979 and 1997. From 2005 to 2010, when restrictions were placed on the number of visitors allowed per day, the Washington Monument had an annual average of 631,000 visitors. 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.
In the early 1900s, material started oozing out between the outer stones of the first construction period below the 150-foot mark, and was referred to by tourists as "geological tuberculosis". This was caused by the weathering of the cement and rubble filler between the outer and inner walls. As the lower section of the monument was exposed to cold and hot and damp and dry weather conditions, the material dissolved and worked its way through the cracks between the stones of the outer wall, solidifying as it dripped down their outer surface.
The monument undergoing restoration in 1999
For ten hours in December 1982, the Washington Monument and eight tourists were held hostage by a nuclear arms protester, Norman Mayer, claiming to have explosives in a van he drove to the monument's base. U.S. Park Police shot and killed Mayer. The monument was undamaged in the incident, and it was discovered later that Mayer did not have explosives. After this incident, the surrounding grounds were modified in places to restrict the possible unauthorized approach of motor vehicles.
The monument underwent an extensive restoration project between 1998 and 2001. During this time it was completely covered in scaffolding designed by the American architect Michael Graves (who was also responsible for the interior changes). The project included cleaning, repairing and repointing the monument's exterior and interior stonework. The stone in publicly accessible interior spaces was encased in glass to prevent vandalism, while new windows with narrower frames were installed (to increase the viewing space). New exhibits celebrating the life of George Washington, and the monument's place in history, were also added.
A temporary interactive visitors center, dubbed the "Discovery Channel Center" was also constructed during the project. The center provided a simulated ride to the top of the monument, and shared information with visitors during phases in which the monument was closed. The majority of the project's phases were completed by summer 2000, allowing the monument to reopen July 31, 2000. The monument temporarily closed again on December 4, 2000 to allow a new elevator cab to be installed, completing the final phase of the restoration project. The new cab included glass windows, allowing visitors to see some of the 194 memorial stones embedded in the monument's walls. The installation of the cab took much longer than anticipated, and the monument did not reopen until February 22, 2002. The final cost of the restoration project was $10.5 million.
On September 7, 2004 the monument closed for a $15 million renovation, which included numerous security upgrades and redesign of the monument grounds by landscape architect Laurie Olin. The renovations were due partly to security concerns following the September 11 attacks and the start of the War on Terror. The monument reopened April 1, 2005, while the surrounding grounds remained closed until the landscape was finished later that summer.
On August 23, 2011, the Washington Monument sustained damage during the 5.8 magnitude 2011 Virginia earthquake; over 150 cracks were found in the monument. A National Park Service spokesperson reported that inspectors discovered a crack near the top of the structure, and announced that the monument would be closed indefinitely. A block in the pyramidion also was partially dislodged, and pieces of stone, stone chips, mortar, and paint chips came free of the monument and "littered" the interior stairs and observation deck. The Park Service said it was bringing in two structural engineering firms (Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. and Tipping Mar Associates) with extensive experience in historic buildings and earthquake-damaged structures to assess the monument.
Officials said an examination of the monument's exterior revealed a "debris field" of mortar and pieces of stone around the base of the monument, and several "substantial" pieces of stone had fallen inside the memorial. A crack in the central stone of the west face of the pyramidion was 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide and 4 feet (1.2 m) long. Park Service inspectors also discovered that the elevator system had been damaged, and was operating only to the 250-foot (76 m) level, but was soon repaired.
On September 27, 2011, Denali National Park ranger Brandon Latham arrived to assist four climbers belonging to a "difficult access" team from Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates. The reason for the inspection was the park agency's suspicion that there were more cracks on the monument's upper section not visible from the inside. The agency said it filled the cracks that occurred on August 23. After Hurricane Irene hit the area on August 27, water was discovered inside the memorial, leading the Park Service to suspect there was more undiscovered damage. The rappellers used radios to report what they found to engineering experts on the ground. Wiss, Janney, Elstner climber Dave Megerle took three hours to set up the rappelling equipment and set up a barrier around the monument's lightning rod system atop the pyramidion; it was the first time the hatch in the pyramidion had been open since 2000.
The external inspection of the monument was completed October 5, 2011. In addition to the 4-foot (1.2 m) long west crack, the inspection found several corner cracks and surface spalls (pieces of stone broken loose) at or near the top of the monument, and more loss of joint mortar lower down the monument. The full report was issued December 2011. Bob Vogel, Superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, emphasized that the monument was not in danger of collapse. "It's structurally sound and not going anywhere", he told the national media at a press conference on September 26, 2011.
More than $200,000 was spent between August 24 and September 26 inspecting the structure. The National Park Service said that it would soon begin sealing the exterior cracks on the monument to protect it from rain and snow.
On July 9, 2012, the National Park Service announced that the monument would be closed for repairs until 2014. The National Park Service hired construction management firm Hill International in conjunction with joint-venture partner Louis Berger Group to provide coordination between the designer, Wiss, Janney, and Elstner Associates, the general contractor Perini, and numerous stakeholders. NPS said a portion of the plaza at the base of the monument would be removed and scaffolding constructed around the exterior. In July 2013, lighting was added to the scaffolding. Some stone pieces saved during the 2011 inspection will be refastened to the monument, while "Dutchman patches"[H] will be used in other places. Several of the stone lips that help hold the pyramidion's 2,000-pound (910 kg) exterior slabs in place were also damaged, so engineers will install stainless steel brackets to more securely fasten them to the monument.
The monument continues to be plagued by problems since the earthquake, including in January 2017 when the lights illuminating it went out. The monument was closed again in September 2016 due to reliability issues with the elevator system. On December 2, 2016, the National Park Service announced that the monument would be closed until 2019 in order to modernize the elevator. The $2 to 3 million project will
correct the elevator's ongoing mechanical, electrical and computer issues, which have shuttered the monument since August 17. The National Park Service has also requested funding in its FY 2017 President's Budget Request to construct a permanent screening facility for the Washington Monument.