The Washington Memorial, otherwise known as the Washington Monument, is an imposing structure found in the heart of the National Mall. Made of marble, bluestone gneiss, and granite, it can be found a few ways from the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool.
Washington Monument Facts
1. Washington Monument was built to commemorate George Washington.
The outstanding monument was built in honor of George Washington, the first president of the United States. He was a fierce commander, having had led the 13 states against oppressive British rule.
2. The monument holds the distinction of being the world’s tallest obelisk.
Standing over 555 feet, the Washington Monument is known as the tallest obelisk structure in the world. The obelisk by itself is 500 feet tall. Its walls are inherently thicker – measuring 15 feet at the base and 1.5 feet at the top. Adding to its height is the pyramidion, which measures 55 feet. It has particularly thin walls measuring a mere 7 inches, a fun Washington Monument fact.
3. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
On October 15, 1966, the Washington Memorial was included in the National Register of Historic Places. This esteemed list includes all historically significant buildings, sites, structures, and districts that are worthy of preservation. To date, the Washington Monument is one of the 74 registered places in the District of Columbia.
4. The obelisk welcomes an average of 800,000 visitors every year.
Given its immense popularity, many Americans – and foreign tourists too – flock the capital to see the obelisk. Tickets can be obtained from the Washington Monument Lodge. However, lines tend to start early. As such, interested visitors who wish to skip the queue are advised to get their tickets from the National Park Service official website.
5. Washington Monument was the tallest building in the world – at least for 5 years.
When the Washington Monument was finished in 1884, it held the prominence of being the tallest structure on the planet. It was a short-lived claim though, as the Eiffel Tower managed to ‘outstand’ the memorial (quite literally) by 1889. At a whopping 1,063 feet, the tower was almost double the size of the obelisk.
Although the Washington Memorial is no longer the mightiest structure in the world, it remains to be the tallest building in Washington DC. The monument has managed to retain its prestige, many thanks to the 1910 Heights of Buildings Act. An interesting fact about Washington Monument is that this has restricted the height of DC buildings to “no more than 20 feet greater than the width of the adjacent street.”
6. A tomb – not a monument – was supposed to be built in honor of George Washington.
When Washington died in 1799, John Marshall, who would, later on, become the Chief Justice, proposed erecting a tomb in his honor. The disagreements amongst the politicians, the lack of funds, and the Washington family’s refusal to move his remains from Mount Vernon led to the scrapping of the said idea. From thereon, the idea evolved to the obelisk that most people see in the National Mall today.
7. Architect Robert Mills designed the first phase of the Memorial.
After decades of talking and lobbying, the Washington National Monument Society was finally able to take a step towards the construction of the memorial. The group, which was able to raise $28,000 (about $1 million in today’s money), started with a competition for the monument’s design.
The competition started in 1836, with the winner being picked 9 years later. Emerging victorious was Robert Mills, said to be the first US-born professional to be trained as an architect. He was an accomplished designer, having been named as Washington’s Architect for Public Buildings.
An interesting Washington Monument fact is that Mills’ original design was said to cost a whopping $1 million in 1848. Due to the lack of funds, a simplified version was erected instead. It started as a bare obelisk and was without the colonnade that most see today.
8. The monument is 390 feet away from its intended position.
The Washington Memorial was supposed to be placed at a crossing between the White House and the US Capitol. However, after careful evaluation, the soil in the area proved to be unworthy of supporting a tall, heavy obelisk. As such, the construction area was moved 390 feet away, east-southeast of the original location.
Now, all one can find on the original construction area is the Jefferson Pier, a small stone that marks the second (though unofficial) prime meridian of the United States.
9. The construction of the Washington Memorial was halted for 27 years.
Groundwork started in 1848, but it was paused from 1854 to 1877 due to a lack of funding, an interesting fact about Washington Monument.
The stone structure was finally finished decades after – in 1884. However, it would take another four years before the stones, ironwork, and knoll would be installed.
The second phase of construction, which started in 1879, was placed under the helm of Thomas Casey. Under his supervision, a pediment and entablature were erected in 1885. The east entrance was reduced, while the west entryway was walled up.
After two phases of construction, the civil war, and several funding squabbles, the monument was finally opened on October 9, 1888.
10. Slave labor may have been utilized during the first phase of construction.
In 1848, when construction was started, slavery practices were rampant in Washington and the surrounding states. As such, many historians believe that slave labor was used in the early days of construction. Some, on the other hand, beg to differ.
Historian John Steele Gordon contended that slaves might have not have taken part as stonemasonry is an advanced skill. Abraham Riesman contradicts this claim, as he believes that many slaves worked as stonemasons during the said times. Jesse Holland, for his part, says that slave labor may have been used in the construction, as slavery was widely observed in Washington back then.
The Washington Memorial, the proud obelisk that it is, is more than just a mere monument for the first president of the United States. It is also a symbol of perseverance and persistence, given the many obstacles it went through before it was finally completed.
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