The Washington Monument, built at intervals between 1848 and 1885 with
funds from public subscriptions and Federal appropriations,
memorializes George Washington's achievements and unselfish devotion
to principle and to country. It shows the gratitude of the people of
the United States to the father of their country and their living
faith in the causes for which he stood.
Washington During the Revolutionary War
George Washington's rise to enduring fame really began in July 1775,
when he took command of the newly formed Continental Army. He was
already an international figure because of the part he had played in
the French and Indian War. However, the quarter of a century that
loomed ahead of that July day was to place him high in the ranks of
the world's great. The problems that confronted the new commander and
his country were colossal. Thirteen small colonies, with potentially
rich but yet undeveloped resources, had embarked on armed conflict
with the richest and most powerful empire in the world. It was an
empire whose far-flung commerce supplied an abundance of the weapons
As commander of the small Continental Army seeking to win independence
for the colonies, Washington was an inspiring leader. He showed
remarkable ability to secure the best results with the scanty material
resources and untrained armed forces at his command. His persistence
secured essential reinforcements and supplies from reluctant governors
and assemblies and enabled him to strengthen the army and feed and
clothe his frequently cold and hungry troops. He made of this
Continental Army an easily maneuverable force which survived the worst
blows of its foe and even won significant victories in the first 3
years of the war. He thus assured the important alliance with France
which was to guarantee the achievement of American independence.
By the close of the Revolution the outstanding position of Washington
in the minds of the American people was generally recognized. More than
any other American, he symbolized the Revolution and its triumphant
conclusion; he had been its military leader for more than 8 years. No
figure in American military or civil life commanded the same general
respect and admiration as were shown to him. At times, it was by his
military ability that he had prevented the Revolution from collapsing.
No other American military hero has possessed in equal measure so many
outstanding qualities of leadership. It is not strange that he has
come to be regarded as the father of this country and that he has
remained the preeminent figure in American history.
Washington, the First President
The years that followed the Revolution added further to the fame of
Washington. This was a critical period in the life of the young
republic, when its very existence was endangered by the weak central
government established under the Articles of Confederation. The
public debt remained unpaid, and public credit declined. The States
levied their own customs duties and disputed among themselves over
the regulation of interstate commerce and other vital matters. In
this national crisis, Washington was again summoned to serve his
country and chosen to preside over the Convention of 1787 that drew
up the Federal Constitution. In 1789 his outstanding ability was
recognized by his unanimous election as first President of the United
In his new office, Washington showed the same high administrative
qualities that had marked his work as commander of the Continental
Army. His choice of executive officers again proved his capacity to
select men of high competence and to place them in positions where
their ability could be used to the best advantage. During his
administration, the public credit was restored, and irritating
disputes among the States over domestic commerce disappeared with the
Federal regulation of interstate commerce. The adoption of these
measures was accompanied by bitter charges directed partly against
Washington himself. Nevertheless, the laws which successfully
launched the new government on its course have won the general
approval of all succeeding generations of American citizens.
Washington in Retirement
When Washington retired to Mount Vernon in March 1797, he left behind
him a great work successfully completed. As the people had looked to
him for leadership in war, so they looked to him for leadership in
peace, and he did not disappoint them.
Steadily through the years that have passed since Washington's death
in 1799, his fame has burned brightly. All Americans have recognized
him as a truly great man. Abroad, the fame of Washington grew as the
French Revolution gave emphasis to the republicanism and nationalism
that he symbolized. The acceptance of democratic principles
increasingly became the fashion in 19th-century Europe and South
America, where liberals and nationalists spread his fame.
Chateaubriand, the celebrated French commentator on America said:
"The name of Washington will spread with liberty from age to
History of the Washington Monument
The construction of a monument to honor George Washington was first
considered by the Continental Congress in 1783. At the time of his
death, and during the next three decades, Congress neglected to take
definite action on many additional proposals for the erection of a
suitable memorial. In 1833, the Washington National Monument Society was
organized by influential citizens of the National Capital who
undertook the building of a "great National Monument to the
memory of Washington at the seat of the Federal Government."
The progress of the society was slow at first. By 1847, however,
$87,000 (including interest) had been collected by popular
subscription. A design submitted by Robert Mills, a well-known
architect, was selected. It provided for a decorated obelisk 600 feet
high which was to rise from a circular colonnaded building 100 feet
high and 250 feet in diameter. This temple was to be an American
pantheon, a repository for statues of Presidents and national heroes,
containing a colossal statue of George Washington.
The original design, however, was greatly altered in the course of
construction and the present monument - a hollow shaft without
decoration or embellishment - has little in common with Mills'
elaborate plan. The proportions of Mills' shaft, which were at
variance with traditional dimensions of obelisks, were altered to
conform to the classical conception, thus producing an obelisk that
for grace and delicacy of outline is unexcelled by any in Egypt.
On July 4, 1848, the cornerstone was laid with elaborate Masonic
ceremonies. The trowel used by Washington at the laying of the
cornerstone of the Capitol in 1793 was used on this occasion.
Work progressed favorably until 1854, when the building of the
monument became involved in a political quarrel. Many citizens became
dissatisfied with the work and the collection of funds lagged. This
unfortunate affair and the growing antagonism between the North and
South, which resulted in the Civil War, brought construction to a halt.
For almost 25 years, the monument stood incomplete at the height of
about 150 feet. Finally on August 2, 1876, President Grant approved an
act which provided that the Federal Government should complete the
erection of the monument. The Corps of Engineers of the War Department
was placed in charge of the work.
In 1880, work was resumed on the shaft. The new Maryland marble with
which the remainder of the monument is faced was secured from the same
vein as the original stone used for the lower part. It came from a
different stratum, however, which explains the "ring"
noticeable on the shaft. The walls of the memorial reached 500 feet on
August 9, 1884, and the capstone was set in place on the following
December 6, marking the completion of the work. The monument was
dedicated on February 21, 1885, and opened to the public on October 9,
The top may be reached by elevator or by an iron stairway. The first
elevator was a steam hoist, used until 1901 when the first electric
elevator was installed. The present elevator, installed in 1959, makes
the ascent in 70 seconds. The iron stairway consists of 50 landings
and 897 steps.
Inserted into the interior walls are 188 carved stones presented by
individuals, societies, cities, States, and nations of the world.
The Monument in Statistics
Total cost: $1,187,710
Height of monument above floor: 555 feet 5 1/8 inches
Width at base of shaft: 55 feet 1 1/2 inches
Width at top of shaft: 34 feet 5 1/2 inches
Thickness of walls at base of shaft: 15 feet
Thickness of walls at top of shaft: 18 inches
Depth of foundation: 36 feet 10 inches
Weight of monument: 90,854 tons
Sway of monument in 30-mile-per-hour wind: 0.125 of an inch
Visiting The Washington Monument
Washington Monument admission is free, but does require a ticket.
The Washington Monument Lodge, located along 15th Street, opens at
8:30 A.M. for distribution of free, same day, timed tickets on a first
come first serve basis. One person may pick up as many as six tickets
as well as select their preferred ticket time from what remains available
for that operating day. All individuals (including children) must have a
ticket. During the spring and summer, tickets run out quickly and the line
for tickets forms as early as 7:00 A.M.; please plan accordingly.