On December 6, 1884, workers placed the 3,300-pound marble capstone on the Washington Monument and topped it with a nine-inch pyramid of cast aluminum, completing construction of the 555-foot Egyptian obelisk. Nearly fifty years earlier, the Washington National Monument Society choose Robert Mills‘ design to honor first American president and founding father George Washington. The privately funded organization laid the monument’s cornerstone on Independence Day, 1848, in Washington, D.C.
For twenty years, lack of funds and loss of support for the Washington National Monument Society left the obelisk incomplete at a height of about 156 feet. Finally, in 1876, President Ulysses Grant authorized the federal government to finish construction. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took over the project two years later.
Day and night, spring through winter, the Washington Monument is a focal point of the National Mall and a center of celebrations including concerts and the annual Independence Day fireworks display. The observation deck affords spectacular panoramic views of the nation’s capital.
When construction was completed in 1884, the Washington Monument was the world’s tallest masonry structure. Today, the approximately 36,000-stacked blocks of granite and marble compose the world’s tallest freestanding masonry structure. In a city of monuments, locals refer to the obelisk as “The Monument.” By law—District of Columbia building code–it will remain the tallest structure in Washington, D.C., dominating the skyline and accenting Pierre-Charles L’Enfant’s plan for the city.
- There are many images of Washington, D.C. in the collections. Search across the pictorial collections on Washington Monument to locate such photographs.
- Search on Washington Monument in The Nineteenth Century in Print External collection to retrieve documents pertaining to the monument’s design, completion, statistics, and its history.
- A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation contains a wide variety of congressional information associated with the early history of Washington, D.C. Search on Washington Monument to find congressional materials related to the monument.
- There are 192 commemorative stones that line the interior walls of the Washington Monument. Read President Calvin Coolidge’s speech at the Dedication of the New Mexico Stone in the Washington Monument on December 2, 1927—one of many Coolidge addresses available in Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929.
- Take a spin to the strains of the “Washington Monument Waltz,” published in Washington D.C. in 1885. Search the collection Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885 on Washington Monument.
- Visit the exhibition Worthy of Washington in the American Treasures exhibition to view the Washington Monument as it stood incomplete for twenty-five years.
- To find additional resources related to the history of the Washington, D.C., consult A Guide to Washington, D.C., Materials.