The History of the Washington Monument

This week’s post is inspired by one of the members of the Neal Gross family who decided last weekend was as good a time as any to cross an item off his bucket list by going to the top of the Washington Monument. Read on to see his captivating pictures and find out more about the history of the monument dedicated to our nation’s first president!

Pierre L’Enfant, the architect of DC, himself reserved a prominent space for the erecting of a monument dedicated to George Washington in his design of the city. In 1833, the Washington National Monument Society formed a fund to build such a monument and spent the next decade soliciting donations and designs. In 1845, the Society selected Robert Mills’s design of a six hundred foot Egyptian-style obelisk surrounded by thirty 100 foot columns.

Looking south over the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial.

Construction on the monument began with a ceremony on July 4, 1848 but came to a halt at just 156 feet high when the Washington National Monument Society went bankrupt in 1854. Finally, on July 5, 1876, Congress took over responsibility for the funding of the project, and the Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with completing the monument. Under the leadership of Lt. Col. Thomas Casey, the decision was made to reduce the size of the monument to 550 feet and forego the thirty columns that were to ring the monument. On December 6, 1884, Lt. Col. Casey placed an aluminum tip on top of the monument completing the nearly-forty-year endeavor, and the monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885, one day before the anniversary of George Washington’s 153rd birthday. At 555 ft., 5-1/8 in., it was the tallest building in the world at the time.

Looking northwest. The White House can be seen on the right.

The monument has gone through various rounds of restoration, with one starting in 1934, another in 1964, and yet another in 1998. The earthquake that struck Washington, DC on August 23, 2011 caused significant damage to the structure, and the Monument was closed to the public indefinitely. After undergoing extensive repairs, it reopened on May 12, 2014, and visitors can once again go inside and ride an elevator to the top where they will enjoy what are almost certainly the best views in the city.

Thanks for stopping by! Be on the lookout for our next post, which will be up later this week. Have you visited the top of the Monument? Share your photos, questions, or comments with us on our Facebook and Twitter Pages.