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Today in History - December 6

The Washington Monument

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.

Horydczak on Top of Washington Monument, between 1920 and 1950. Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydcak, 1923-1959

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.

Washington Monument, between 1920 and 1950. Theodor Horydczak, photographer. Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydcak, 1923-1959

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.

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