George Washington remains one of the most important figures in American history. As a military leader, he led the colonies through the Revolutionary War to independence. As a statesman, he helped forge the Constitution and then served as the first President of the United States. How do you honor such an important historical figure?
In the 1780s, the Continental Congress decided to honor Washington with a prominent monument at the site of the new national government. Peter L'Enfant's 1791 design for Washington, D.C. made the Washington Monument the centerpiece of the new city.
The monument was not built right away, however. It was not until 1836 that the Washington National Monument Society chose Robert Mills' architectural design — a tall obelisk that would tower over the city. An obelisk is a tall, narrow, four-sided monument that tapers toward the top, where it ends in a pyramid.
The Society laid the cornerstone for the Washington Monument on July 4, 1848, and construction began soon thereafter. Unfortunately, the Civil War and other political pressures forced a halt to the construction. The Washington Monument stood at only about 150 feet tall for many years.
Eventually, construction was completed and the capstone was set on December 6, 1884. The Washington Monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885, and officially opened to the public on October 9, 1888. Finally finished, it was 555 feet 51⁄8 inches tall!
The Washington Monument sits at the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It is due east of the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial.
Made of marble, granite, and bluestone gneiss, it's the tallest structure in Washington, D.C., the tallest stone structure in the world, and the tallest obelisk in the world. Built of 36,491 stone blocks, the monument weighs 90,854 tons!
When it was completed, it was also the tallest structure in the world. In 1889, however, the Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris, France, and it took over that title.
At the very top of the Washington Monument, there is an aluminum pyramid. When the monument was built, aluminum was as expensive as silver. It was the largest single piece of aluminum ever cast at that time.
The Washington Monument features an elevator and an 897-step stairway that lead to an observation deck at 500 feet above ground. On a clear day, you can see over 30 miles in every direction.
On August 23, 2011, the Washington Monument sustained some damage during an earthquake that was centered in Virginia. The National Park Service closed the monument, so it could be inspected and repaired. It reopened in 2015. Then, in 2016 it was closed again because the elevator needed repairs. It reopened in 2019.