Washington Monument: A Slow Process

View of the Washington Monument from the Post Office Tower, Washington, DC. The Pentagon is visible in the background to the left.
View of the Washington Monument from the Post Office Tower, Washington, DC. The Pentagon is visible in the background to the left. (Daniel Schwen via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1884, the Washington Monument was completed.

Here are some things you may not have known about the memorial to the first American President.

Proposals for a monument to George Washington started at the end of the Revolutionary War. However, Congress didn’t act until after his death in 1799, when it authorized a memorial in the national capital, which was under construction at the time. However, this decision was overturned by the Jeffersonian Republicans who didn’t want to build a monument to any man, much less one that was the hero of the opposition Federalist Party.

It took until 1832 for any legitimate progress toward a monument to be made. That year marked the 100th anniversary of Washington’s birth, which was used by a group called the Washington National Monument Society as a rallying point for a fundraising campaign. Over the course of three years, they raised $28,000, which is the equivalent to more than $17 million today.

A contest was held to choose the best design, which was submitted by Robert Mills, who was the Architect for Public Buildings in Washington, D.C. His design featured a flat-topped obelisk, which is a four-sided pillar that tapers as it rises, with a circular colonnade at the base. Picture a combination of a flat-topped Washington Monument atop a circular Lincoln Memorial. The proposal had an estimated price tag of $1 million, or more than $620 million today.

The society decided to start construction, hopeful that the progress would lead to further donations to allow it to be completed.

It was originally intended to be located at the intersection of perpendicular lines running from the U.S. Capitol and the White House. However, the ground at that location was not stable enough to support such a large building and it was instead built about 400 feet east south east. The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848.

Construction continued until 1854, when the money ran out. At the time, the monument was 152 feet tall. Construction wouldn’t resume until 1879, using stone from a different quarry, leading to the difference in color that exists to this day.

With sufficient funding, construction moved swiftly. It was completed on December 6, 1884 with the placement of an aluminum cap at the point. At the time, aluminum was rare and as valuable as silver.

The Washington Monument is 554 feet 7-11/32 inches tall. At completion it was the tallest building in the world, passing the Cologne Cathedral. It held the title until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in 1889. It remains the tallest stone structure in the world, and, by law, the tallest building in Washington, D.C.

Our question: Had the Washington Monument been constructed where it was intended, it would have formed the center of a cross. The White House and the Capitol are on two ends of the cross, what buildings are on the opposite ends?

Today is Constitution Day in Spain, Independence Day in Finland, and Armed Forces Day in Ukraine.

It’s unofficially National Gazpacho Day, National Microwave Oven Day, and National Pawnbrokers Day.

It’s the birthday of songwriter Ira Gershwin, who was born in 1896; musician Dave Brubeck, who was born in 1920; and animator Nick Park, who is 58.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1969, the top song in the U.S. was “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam.

The No. 1 movie was “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” while the novel “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

What two states were the sources of the marble used in construction of the Washington Monument?


Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or our website.

Also, if you’re enjoying the show, please consider supporting it through Patreon.com

Please rate the show on iTunes by clicking here.











Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.