Today In History: Washington Monument Finished
Today in 1884, the Washington Monument was completed. Workers finalized the monument with a nine-inch pyramid, made of aluminum, that topped off the marble tower.
There were plans for a statue honoring George Washington as early as 1783. The U.S. Congress, still young, wanted to erect a statue for him near the new Congressional building. Washington himself asked the architect Pierre L’Enfant to design a new federal capital on the Potomac River in 1791, and L’Enfant included a space near the western end of the National Mall for a Washington statue.
Real action wasn’t taken on the Washington monument until 1832, 33 years after Washington had died. In 1832, a Washington National Monument Society formed and held a design competition for the monument. They chose a design by Robert Mills that resembled a Greek temple, and began fundraising for its construction. They were able to raise $230,000 through their fundraising efforts, which included canvassing children. They needed a million dollars to finish the monument, but started building it anyway. The first cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848. It was a 24,500lb block of marble.
Construction skidded to a halt six years into the project when money ran short. Mark Twain described the half-completed monument as a “hollow, oversized chimney.” The project was put on ice until 1876. Ulysses S. Grant authorized construction to begin again, in celebration of the centennial of American independence.
When it was finally finished in December of 1884, the Washington Monument was the tallest structure on Earth. It stood 555 feet high, made of roughly 36,000 blocks of granite and marble.
About ten thousand people climbed to the top of the Monument in the six months following its completion. Those 900 steps have now been replaced by an elevator. The Monument attracts an estimated 800,000 visitors every year.
While the Washington Monument isn’t the tallest building in the world anymore, and not by a long shot, it’s still the tallest building in Washington D.C. By design. A city law was passed in 1910 to ban construction on any building taller than the Monument.
The Washington Monument underwent a restoration project from 1998-2001. It was totally covered in scaffolding. The renovation cleaned, repaired and repointed both its exterior and interior. Stone that is visible in public areas was encased in glass to discourage vandals and new windows were installed. They also added exhibits about George Washington’s life. It remains a symbol of national pride and strength and continues to be a major tourism draw in our country’s capital.