Completion of the Washington Monument

United States - Scott #4651 (2012)

United States – Scott #4651 (2012)

Construction of the Washington Monument was completed on December 6, 1884. The famous obelisk on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was built to commemorate George Washington, once commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and the first President of the United States. Located almost due east of the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial, the monument, made of marble, granite, and bluestone gneiss, is both the world’s tallest stone structure and the world’s tallest obelisk, standing 554 feet 7 11⁄32 inches (169.046 meters) tall according to the National Geodetic Survey (measured 2013–14) or 555 feet 5 1⁄8 inches (169.294 m) tall according to the National Park Service (measured 1884). It is the tallest monumental column in the world if all are measured above their pedestrian entrances.

The Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. Photo taken on October 5, 2016

The Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. Photo taken on October 5, 2016.

Construction of the monument began in 1848, and was halted from 1854 to 1877 due to a lack of funds, a struggle for control over the Washington National Monument Society, and the intervention of the American Civil War. Although the stone structure was completed in 1884, internal ironwork, the knoll, and other finishing touches were not completed until 1888. A difference in shading of the marble, visible approximately 150 feet (46 m) or 27% up, shows where construction was halted and later resumed with marble from a different source.

The original design was by Robert Mills, but he did not include his proposed colonnade due to a lack of funds, proceeding only with a bare obelisk. Despite many proposals to embellish the obelisk, only its original flat top was altered to a pointed marble pyramidion, in 1884. The cornerstonewas laid on July 4, 1848; the first stone was laid atop the unfinished stump on August 7, 1880; the capstone was set on December 6, 1884; the completed monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885; and officially opened October 9, 1888. Upon completion, it became the world’s tallest structure, a title previously held by the Cologne Cathedral. The monument held this designation until 1889, when the Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris, France.

The monument was damaged during the 2011 Virginia earthquake and Hurricane Irene in the same year and remained closed to the public while the structure was assessed and repaired. After 32 months of repairs, the National Park Service and the Trust for the National Mall reopened the Washington Monument to visitors on May 12, 2014.

The monument was closed again in September 2016 due to reliability issues with the elevator system. On December 2, 2016, the National Park Service announced that the monument would be closed until 2019 in order to modernize the elevator. The $2 to 3 million project will correct the elevator’s ongoing mechanical, electrical and computer issues. The National Park Service also requested funding in its FY 2017 President’s Budget Request to construct a permanent screening facility for the Washington Monument.

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown portrait of George Washington

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown portrait of George Washington. This portrait was based on the uncompleted Antheneum portrait by Stuart; the uncompleted portions were filled in by Peale. This copy has been published in pre-1923 materials, including p. 442 of The Life of George Washington and p. 79 of Early American Painters.

George Washington (1732–1799), hailed as the father of his country, and as the leader who was “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen” (in eulogy by Major General ‘Light-Horse Harry’ Lee at Washington’s funeral on December 26, 1799), was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. Even his former enemy King George III called him “the greatest character of the age.”

At his death in 1799 he left a critical legacy; he exemplified the core ideals of the American Revolution and the new nation: republican virtue and devotion to civic duty. Washington was the unchallenged public icon of American military and civic patriotism. He was also identified with the Federalist Party, which lost control of the national government in 1800 to the Jeffersonian Republicans, who were reluctant to celebrate the hero of the opposition party.

Starting with victory in the Revolution, there were many proposals to build a monument to Washington. After his death, Congress authorized a suitable memorial in the national capital, but the decision was reversed when the Democratic-Republican Party (Jeffersonian Republicans) took control of Congress in 1801. The Republicans were dismayed that Washington had become the symbol of the Federalist Party; furthermore the values of Republicanism seemed hostile to the idea of building monuments to powerful men. They also blocked his image on coins or the celebration of his birthday.

Further political squabbling, along with the North-South division on the Civil War, blocked the completion of the Washington Monument until the late 19th century. By that time, Washington had the image of a national hero who could be celebrated by both North and South, and memorials to him were no longer controversial.

As early as 1783, the Continental Congresshad resolved “That an equestrian statue of George Washington be erected at the place where the residence of Congress shall be established.” The proposal called for engraving on the statue which explained it had been erected “in honor of George Washington, the illustrious Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States of America during the war which vindicated and secured their liberty, sovereignty, and independence.” Currently, there are two equestrian statues of President Washington in Washington, D.C. One is located in Washington Circle at the intersection of the Foggy Bottom and West End neighborhoods at the north end of the George Washington University, and the other is in the gardens of the National Cathedral.

Ten days after Washington’s death, a Congressional committee recommended a different type of monument. John Marshall, a Representative from Virginia (who later became Chief Justice of the United States) proposed that a tomb be erected within the Capitol. However, a lack of funds, disagreement over what type of memorial would best honor the country’s first president, and the Washington family’s reluctance to move his body prevented progress on any project.

Progress toward a memorial finally began in 1833. That year a large group of concerned citizens formed the Washington National Monument Society. In 1836, after they had raised $28,000 in donations (equivalent to $18,000,000 in 2016), they announced a competition for the design of the memorial.

On September 23, 1835, the board of managers of the society described their expectations:

It is proposed that the contemplated monument shall be like him in whose honor it is to be constructed, unparalleled in the world, and commensurate with the gratitude, liberality, and patriotism of the people by whom it is to be erected … [It] should blend stupendousness with elegance, and be of such magnitude and beauty as to be an object of pride to the American people, and of admiration to all who see it. Its material is intended to be wholly American, and to be of marble and granite brought from each state, that each state may participate in the glory of contributing material as well as in funds to its construction.

Sketch of the proposed Washington Monument by architect Robert Mills (circa 1836)

Sketch of the proposed Washington Monument by architect Robert Mills (circa 1836)

The society held a competition for designs in 1836. In 1845 the winner was announced to be architect Robert Mills. The citizens of Baltimore had chosen him to build a monument to Washington, and he had designed a tall Greek column surmounted by a statue of the President. Mills also knew the capital well, having just been chosen Architect of Public Buildings for Washington. His design called for a circular colonnaded building 250 feet (76 m) in diameter and 100 feet (30 m) high from which sprang a four sided obelisk 500 feet (150 m) high, for a total elevation of 600 feet (180 m). A massive cylindrical pillar 70 feet (21 m) in diameter supported the obelisk at the center of the building. The obelisk was to be 70 feet (21 m) square at the base and 40 feet (12 m) square at the top with a slightly peaked roof. Both the obelisk and pillar were hollow within which a railway spiraled up. The obelisk had no doorway — instead its interior was entered from the interior of the pillar upon which it was mounted. The pillar had an “arched way” at its base. The top of the portico of the building would feature Washington standing in a chariot holding the reins of six horses. Inside the colonnade would be statues of 30 prominent Revolutionary War heroes as well as statues of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Criticism of Mills’ design and its estimated price tag of more than $1 million (in 1848, equivalent to $510,000,000 in 2016) caused the society to hesitate. On April 11, 1848 the society decided, due to a lack of funds, to build only the obelisk. Mills’ 1848 obelisk was to be 500 feet tall, 55 feet (17 m) square at the base and 35 feet (11 m) square at the top. It had two massive doorways, each 15 feet (4.6 m) high and 6 feet (1.8 m) wide, on the east and west sides of its base. Surrounding each doorway were raised jambs, a heavy pediment, and entablature within which was carved an Egyptian-style winged sun and asp.

This original design conformed to a massive temple which was to have surrounded the base of the obelisk, but because it was never built, the architect of the second phase of construction Thomas Lincoln Casey smoothed down the projecting jambs, pediment and entablature in 1885, walled up the west entrance with marble forming an alcove, and reduced the east entrance to 8 feet (2.4 m) high. The western alcove has contained a bronze statue of Washington since 1993. Also during 1992–1993, a limestone surround was installed at the east elevator entrance decorated with a winged sun and asps to mimic Mills’ 1848 design.

The Washington Monument was originally intended to be located at the point at which a line running directly south from the center of the White House crossed a line running directly west from the center of the Capitol. Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant’s 1791 “Plan of the city intended for the permanent seat of the government of the United States …” designated this point as the location of the equestrian statue of George Washington that the Continental Congress had voted for in 1783.

West side of Jefferson Pier with Washington Monument in background

West side of Jefferson Pier with Washington Monument in background. Photo taken April 6, 2011.

The ground at the intended location proved to be too unstable to support a structure as heavy as the planned obelisk, so the monument’s location was moved 390 feet (118.87 m) east-southeast. At that originally intended site there now stands a small monolith called the Jefferson Pier. This offset caused the McMillan Plan to specify that the Lincoln Memorial should be “placed on the main axis of the Capitol and the Monument”, about 1° south of due west of the Capitol or the monument, not due west of the Capitol or the monument.

Construction of the monument began in 1848 with the excavation of the site, the laying of the cornerstone on the prepared bed, and laying the original foundation around and on top of the cornerstone, before the construction of its massive walls began the next year. Even though slave labor is not mentioned, no paid laborers whatsoever are listed among the small paid labor force of 21 used to construct the foundation in 1848, which included 14 stonemasons and 2 stonecutters. In contrast, the maximum work force during the second phase was 170, including 100 stonecutters, with laborers second in number. Washington Monument Historian John Steele Gordon stated “I can’t say for certain, but the stonemasonry was pretty highly skilled, so it’s unlikely that slaves would’ve been doing it. The stones were cut by stonecutters, which is highly skilled work; and the stones were hoisted by means of steam engines, so you’d need a skilled engineer and foreman for stuff like that. Tending the steam engine, building the cast-iron staircase inside — that wasn’t grunt work.” According to historian Jesse Holland, it is very likely that African-American slaves were among the construction workers, given that slavery prevailed in Washington and its surrounding states at that time, and slaves were commonly used in public and private construction.

Gordon’s arguments are valid for the second phase (1879–84) when every stone laid required a skilled stonemason. However, Holland’s views are valid for the first phase (1848–54) because much of its construction only required unskilled manual labor, assisted only by a steam engine to lift the stones because many weighed several tons each. Only a small number of stones used in the first phase required a skilled stonemason, the marble blocks on the outer surface of the monument (their inner surfaces were left very rough) and those gneiss stones that form the rough inner walls of the monument (all other surfaces of those inner stones within the walls were left jagged). The vast majority of all gneiss stones laid during the first phase, those between the outer and inner surfaces of the walls, from very large to very small jagged stones, form a pile of rubble held together by a large amount of mortar. The top surface of this rubble can be seen below at Walls in an 1880 drawing made just before the polished/rough marble and granite stones used in the second phase were laid atop it.

The original foundation below the walls was made of layered gneiss rubble, but without the massive stones used within the walls. Most of the gneiss stones used during the first phase were obtained from quarries in the Potomac Valley. Only the marble stones of the first and second phases came from Maryland quarries north of Baltimore.

On July 4, 1848, the Freemasons, an organization to which Washington belonged, laid the cornerstone (symbolically, not physically). According to Joseph R. Chandler:

No more Washingtons shall come in our time … But his virtues are stamped on the heart of mankind. He who is great in the battlefield looks upward to the generalship of Washington. He who grows wise in counsel feels that he is imitating Washington. He who can resign power against the wishes of a people, has in his eye the bright example of Washington.

The cornerstone was laid with great ceremony at the northeast corner of the lowest course or step of the old foundation on July 4, 1848. Robert Mills, the architect of the monument, stated in September 1848, “The foundations are now brought up nearly to the surface of the ground; the second step being nearly completed, which covers up the corner stone.” Therefore, the cornerstone was laid below the 1848 ground level. In 1880, the ground level was raised 17 feet (5.2 m) to the base of the shaft by the addition of a 30-foot (9.1 m) wide earthen embankment encircling the reinforced foundation, widened another 30 feet in 1881, and then the knoll was constructed in 1887–1888. If the cornerstone was not moved during the strengthening of the foundation in 1879–1880, its upper surface would now be 21 feet (6.4 m) below the pavement just outside the northeast corner of the shaft. It would now be sandwiched between the concrete slab under the old foundation and the concrete buttress completely encircling what remains of the old foundation. During the strengthening process, about half by volume of the periphery of the lowest seven of eight courses or steps of the old foundation (gneiss rubble) was removed to provide good footing for the buttress. Although a few diagrams, pictures and descriptions of this process exist, the fate of the cornerstone is not mentioned.

The cornerstone was a 24,500-pound (11,100 kg) marble block 2.5 feet (0.76 m) high and 6.5 feet (2.0 m) square with a large hole for a zinc case filled with memorabilia. The hole was covered by a copper plate inscribed with the date of the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776), the date the cornerstone was laid (July 4, 1848), and the names of the managers of the Washington National Monument Society. The memorabilia in the zinc case included items associated with the monument, the city of Washington, the national government, state governments, benevolent societies, and George Washington, plus miscellaneous publications, both governmental and commercial, a coin set, and a bible, totaling 73 items or collections of items, as well as 71 newspapers containing articles relating to George Washington or the monument.

The ceremony began with a parade of dignitaries in carriages, marching troops, fire companies, and benevolent societies. A long oration was delivered by the Speaker of the House of Representatives Robert C. Winthrop. Then, the cornerstone was pronounced sound after a Masonic ceremony using George Washington’s Masonic gavel, apron and sash, as well as other Masonic symbols. In attendance were President James K. Polk and other federal, state and local government officials, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, Mrs. Dolley Madison, Mrs. John Quincy Adams, and George Washington Parke Custis, among 15,000 to 20,000 others, including a bald eagle. The ceremony ended with fireworks that evening.

The first phase began with the excavation of about 7 feet 8 inches (2.3 m) of topsoil down to a level of loam, consisting of equal parts of sand and clay, hard enough to require picks to break it up. On this “bed of the foundation” the cornerstone was laid at the northeast corner of the proposed foundation. The rest of the foundation was then constructed of bluestone gneiss rubble and spalls, with every crevice filled with lime mortar. The dimensions of this old foundation were 23 feet 4 inches (7.1 m) high, 80 feet (24.4 m) square at the base, and 58 feet 6 inches (17.8 m) square at the top, laid down in eight steps, similar to a truncated step pyramid. At the center of the foundation a brick-lined 2-foot (60 cm) square well was dug to a depth of 20 feet (6 m) below the bed of the foundation to keep it dry and to supply water during construction.

On a torrid July 4, 1850, George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted son of George Washington and grandson of Martha Washington, dedicated a stone from the people of the District of Columbia to the Monument at a ceremony that President Zachary Taylor attended five days before he died from food poisoning.

Construction continued until 1854, when< donations ran out and the monument had reached a height of 152 feet (46.3 m). At that time a memorial stone that was contributed by Pope Pius IX, called the Pope’s Stone, was destroyed by members of the anti-Catholic, nativist American Party, better known as the “Know-Nothings”, during the early morning hours of March 6, 1854 (a priest replaced it in 1982). This caused public contributions to the Washington National Monument Society to cease, so they appealed to Congress for money.

The request had just reached the floor of the House of Representatives when the Know-Nothing Party seized control of the Society on February 22, 1855. Congress immediately tabled its expected contribution of $200,000 to the Society, effectively halting the appropriation. During its tenure, the Know-Nothing Society added only two courses of masonry, or four feet, to the monument using rejected masonry it found on site, increasing the height of the shaft to 156 feet. The original Society refused to recognize the illegal takeover, so two Societies existed side by side until 1858. With the Know-Nothing Party disintegrating and its inability to secure contributions toward building the monument, it surrendered its possession of the monument to the original Society on October 20, 1858. To prevent future takeovers, Congress incorporated the Society on February 22, 1859.

The unfinished Washington Monument photographed by Matthew Brady, circa 1860.

The unfinished Washington Monument photographed by Matthew Brady, circa 1860.

Interest in the monument grew after the Civil War. Engineers studied the foundation several times to determine if it was strong enough. In 1876, the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence, Congress agreed to appropriate another $200,000 to resume construction.

Before work could begin again, arguments about the most appropriate design resumed. Many people thought a simple obelisk, one without the colonnade, would be too bare. Architect Mills was reputed to have said omitting the colonnade would make the monument look like “a stalk of asparagus”; another critic said it offered “little … to be proud of.”

This attitude led people to submit alternative designs. Both the Washington National Monument Society and Congress held discussions about how the monument should be finished. The society considered five new designs, concluding that the one by William Wetmore Story seemed “vastly superior in artistic taste and beauty.” Congress deliberated over those five as well as Mills’ original. While it was deciding, it ordered work on the obelisk to continue. Finally, the members of the society agreed to abandon the colonnade and alter the obelisk so it conformed to classical Egyptian proportions.

Construction resumed in 1879 under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Casey redesigned the foundation, strengthening it so it could support a structure that ultimately weighed more than 40,000 tons. The first stone atop the unfinished stump was laid August 7, 1880 in a small ceremony attended by President Rutherford B. Hayes, Casey and a few others. The president placed a small coin on which he had scratched his initials and the date in the bed of wet cement at the 150-foot level before the first stone was laid on top of it.

Casey found 92 memorial stones (presented stones) already inlaid into the interior walls of the first phase of construction. Before construction continued he temporarily removed eight stones at the 150-foot level so that the walls at that level could be sloped outward, producing thinner second-phase walls. He inserted those stones and most of the remaining memorial stones stored in the lapidarium into the interior walls during 1885–1889.

Washington Monument plans and construction timeline, 1885

Washington Monument plans and construction timeline, 1885

The bottom third of the monument is a slightly lighter shade than the rest of the construction because the marble was obtained from different quarries.

During the first phase of construction (1848–1854), the walls were built with bluestone gneiss rubble, ranging from very large irregular stones having a cross section of about 5 by 10 feet (1.5 m × 3.0 m) down to spalls (broken pieces of stone) all embedded in a large amount of mortar. The outer surface is marble stones 14 to 18 inches (36–46 cm) thick in 2-foot (61 cm) high courses or rows horizontally encircling the monument. Although each course contains both stretchers (stones parallel to the wall) and headers (stones projecting into the wall), about two to three times as many stretchers as headers were used. Their joints were so thin that some stones pressed on bare stone below them, breaking off many pieces since it was constructed.

The batter or slope of the outer surface is 0.247 inches per foot (2.06 cm/m, 1°11′). The inner surface has disorderly rows of smaller roughly dressed bluestone gneiss. The base of the first phase walls has an outer dimension of 55 feet 1 1⁄2 inches (16.80 m) square and a thickness of 15 feet (4.6 m). The interior well is 25 feet 1 inch (7.65 m) square and has square corners. The weight of the first phase walls up to 150 feet (45.7 m) is 22,373 long tons (25,058 short tons; 22,732 tonnes).

During the second phase (1879–1884), the walls were constructed of smoothly dressed (ashlar) large marble and granite blocks (rectangular cuboids) laid down in an orderly manner (Flemish bond) with thick joints. Two-foot high marble surface stones, using an equal number of stretchers and headers, were backed by granite blocks from the 152-foot level (the first course above the rubble) to the 218-foot level, where marble headers become increasingly visible on the internal surface of the walls up to the 450-foot level, above which only marble stones are used. Between the 150- and 160-foot levels the inner walls rapidly slope outward, increasing the shaft well from 25 feet 1 inch square to 31 feet 5 1⁄2 inches (9.59 m) square with a corresponding decrease in the thickness of the walls and their weight. The second phase walls at the 160-foot level were 8 feet 7 1⁄2 inches (2.63 m) thick, which, combined with the larger shaft well, yields an outer dimension of 48 feet 8 1⁄2 inches (14.85 m) square at that level. The top of the second phase walls are 34 feet 5 1⁄2 inches (10.50 m) square and 1 foot 6 inches (46 cm) thick. The second phase interior walls have rounded (2-foot (0.61 m) radii) corners. The weight of the second phase walls (from 150 feet to 500 feet) are 21,260 long tons (23,810 short tons; 21,600 tonnes). The walls of the entire shaft (combined first and second phases) are 500 feet 5 1⁄8 inches (152.530 m) high.

The first phase of the walls was constructed under the direction of William Dougherty. Its white marble exterior came from the Texas quarry now adjacent to and east of north I-83 near the Warren Road exit in Cockeysville, Maryland. The quarry was named for the Texas Station (no longer extant) and 19th-century town on the Northern Central Railway. During the first phase it was operated by Thomas Symington, but is now operated by Lafarge and no longer produces building stone. The second phase of construction was under the direction of Lt Col/Col Thomas Lincoln Casey of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who removed two defective courses added by the Know-Nothings and the last 152-foot course added by Dougherty before Casey began his construction. The next three courses of white marble (152–156 feet (46–48 m)) came from Sheffield, Massachusetts, while all courses above them came from the Beaver Dam quarry just west of the 19th-century town of Cockeysville. The latter quarry is located on Beaver Dam Road near its intersection with McCormick Road. During the second phase the quarry was operated by Hugh Sisson, but is now flooded, is called Beaverdam Pond, and is the home of the Beaver Dam Swimming Club. Both 19th-century towns are now within the city limits of Cockeysville.

The building of the monument proceeded quickly after Congress had provided sufficient funding. In four years, it was completed, with the 100-ounce (2.83 kg) aluminum apex/lightning-rod being put in place on December 6, 1884.

P. H. McLaughlin setting the capstone (aluminum apex) on the Washington Monument. Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey has his hands up. An illustration from Harper's Weekly, December 20, 1884, page 839. Accompanying article on pages 844-5.

P. H. McLaughlin setting the capstone (aluminum apex) on the Washington Monument. Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey has his hands up. An illustration from Harper’s Weekly, December 20, 1884.

The aluminum apex, at the time a rare metal as valuable as silver, was cast by William Frishmuth of Philadelphia. At the time of casting, it was the largest piece of aluminum in the world. Before the installation it was put on public display at Tiffany’s in New York City and stepped over by visitors who could say they had “stepped over the top of the Washington Monument”. It was 8.9 inches (23 cm) tall before 3⁄8 inch (1 cm) was removed from its tip by lightning strikes during 1885–1934, when it was protected from further damage by tall lightning rods surrounding it. Its base is 5.6 inches (14 cm) square. The angle between opposite sides at its tip is 34°48′. It weighed 100 ounces (2.83 kg) before lightning strikes removed a small amount of aluminum from its tip and sides. Spectral analysis in 1934 showed that it was composed of 97.87% aluminum with the rest impurities. It has a shallow depression in its base to match a slightly raised area atop the small upper surface of the marble capstone, which aligns the sides of the apex with those of the capstone, and the downward protruding lip around that area prevents water from entering the joint. It has a large hole in the center of its base to receive a threaded 1.5-inch (3.8 cm) diameter copper rod which attaches it to the monument and used to form part of the lightning protection system.

Aluminum apex showing inscriptions on east and north faces. Large dark spot in the center of the mottled area on the east (left) face is a dimple left by one of four set screws that used to hold the copper band to the apex.

Aluminum apex in 1934 showing inscriptions on east and north faces. Large dark spot in the center of the mottled area on the east (left) face is a dimple left by one of four set screws that used to hold the copper band to the apex.

The four faces of the external aluminum apex all bear inscriptions in cursive writing (Snell Round hand), which are incised into the aluminum. The apex was inscribed on site after it was delivered. Most inscriptions are the original 1884 inscriptions, except for the top three lines on the east face which were added in 1934. A wide gold-plated copper band that held eight lightning rods covered most of the inscriptions from 1885 until it was removed and discarded in 2013. The inscriptions that it covered were damaged and are now illegible. Only the top four and bottom two lines of the north face, the first and last lines of the west face, the top four lines of the south face, and the top three lines of the east face are still legible. Even though the inscriptions are no longer covered, no attempt was made to repair them when the apex was accessible in 2013.

The apex was the largest single piece of aluminum cast at the time, when aluminum commanded a price comparable to silver. Two years later, the Hall–Héroult process made aluminum easier to produce and the price of aluminum plummeted, making the once-valuable apex more ordinary, though it still provided a lustrous, non-rusting apex that served as the original lightning rod.

Until it was removed, the original lightning protection system was connected to the tops of the four iron columns supporting the elevator with large copper rods. Even though the aluminum apex is still connected to the columns with large copper rods, it is no longer part of the lightning protection system because it is now disconnected from the present lightning rods which shield it. The two lightning rods present since 2013 are connected to the iron columns with two large braided aluminum cables leading down the surface of the pyramidion near its southeast and northwest corners. They enter the pyramidion at its base, where they are tied together (electrically shorted) via large braided aluminum cables encircling the pyramidion two feet (0.6 m) above its base. The bottom of the iron columns are connected to ground water below the monument via four large copper rods that pass through a 2-foot (0.6 m) square well half filled with sand in the center of the foundation. The effectiveness of the lightning protection system has not been affected by a significant draw down of the water table since 1884 because the soil’s water content remains roughly 20% both above and below the height of the water table.

The observation floor (nominally the 500-foot level) is 499 feet 4 1⁄2 inches (152.21 m) above the entry lobby floor or lowest landing level. It is 1 1⁄4 inches (3.2 cm) above the marble base of the pyramidion and the top of the shaft walls.

Four pairs of 3-foot (91 cm) wide observation windows are provided, spaced 4 feet (122 cm) apart, inner stone edge to edge, all just above the lowest course of slabs (504-foot level). Six are 1 foot 6 inches (46 cm) high while two on the east face are 2 feet (61 cm) high for easier egress. All were originally provided with thin marble shutters in a bronze frame each of which could be opened inward, one left and the other right per wall. After two people committed suicide by jumping through the open windows in the 1920s, hinged horizontal iron bars were added to them in 1929. A ninth opening in a slab on the south face just below the capstone is provided for access to the outside of the pyramidion. It is covered by a stone slab which is internally removable.

In 1931, four red aircraft warning lights were installed, one per face in one of its observation windows. Pilots complained that they could not be easily seen, so the monument was floodlit on all sides as well. In 1958, eight 14-inch (36 cm) diameter holes for new red aircraft warning lights were bored, one above each window near the top edge of the fourth course of slabs (516-foot level) in the pyramidion. In 1958 the observation windows were glazed with shatterproof glass. In 1974–1976, they were glazed with bulletproof glass and the shutters removed. New bulletproof glass was installed during 1997–2000.

The pyramidion has two inscriptions, neither of which is regarded as a memorial stone. One is the year “1884” on the underside of the cruciform keystone; the other is at the same level as that keystone on the north face of the west center rib containing the names and titles of the four highest ranked builders. Its inscription (“Chief Engineer …”) is almost identical to the inscription on the south face of the aluminum apex except for “U.S.”, which is part of the phrase “14th U.S. Infantry” in the inscription inside the pyramidion, but the apex has only “14th Infantry”. Additionally, the internal inscription does not use cursive writing and all letters in all names are capitals.

Aerial view of the Washington Monument. Photo taken on September 26, 2003.

Aerial view of the Washington Monument. Photo taken on September 26, 2003.

The monument opened to the public on October 9, 1888. The total cost of the monument from 1848 to 1888 was $1,409,500 (equivalent to $350,000,000 in 2016). The weight of the above ground portion of the monument is 44,208 long tons (49,513 short tons; 44,917 tonnes), whereas its total weight, including the foundation below ground and any earth above it that is within its outer perimeter is 81,120 long tons (90,854 short tons; 82,422 tonnes). The total number of blocks in the monument, including all marble, granite and gneiss blocks, whether externally or internally visible or hidden from view within the walls or old foundation is over 36,000. The number of marble blocks externally visible is about 10,000.

The monument stands 554 feet 7 11⁄32 inches (169.046 m) tall according to the National Geodetic Survey (measured 2013–2014) or 555 feet 5 1⁄8 inches (169.294 m) tall according to the National Park Service (measured 1884). In 1975, a ramp covered two steps at the entrance to the monument, so the ground next to the ramp was raised to match its height, reducing the remaining height to the monument’s apex. It is both the world’s tallest stone structure and the world’s tallest obelisk. It is the tallest monumental column in the world if all are measured above their pedestrian entrances, but two are taller when measured above ground, though they are neither all stone nor true obelisks. The tallest masonry structure in the world is the brick Anaconda Smelter Stack in Montana at 585 feet 1 1⁄2 inches (178.35 m) tall. But this includes a 30-foot (9.14 m) non-masonry concrete foundation, leaving the stack’s brick chimney at 555 feet 1 1⁄2 inches (169.20 m) tall as the portion comparable to the monument’s height, only about 6 inches (15 cm) taller. If the monument’s aluminum apex is also discounted, then the stack’s masonry portion is 15 inches (38 cm) taller than the monument’s masonry portion.

As a landmark of the U.S. capital, the Washington Monument has been featured in film and television depictions. Despite this, relatively few U.S. stamps have portrayed the monument and none have commemorated the completion or dedication anniversaries. While today’s ASAD article covers the Washington Monument’s design, construction and most of its components, I plan to add additional details (and a different stamp) to mark the anniversary of its dedication in February.

The Washington Monument with cherry trees in the foreground. Photo taken on March 24, 2016

The Washington Monument with cherry trees in the foreground. Photo taken on March 24, 2016.

On March 24, 2012, the United States Postal Service issued a se-tenant pair of stamps to commemorate the centennial of the gift of more than 3,000 cherry blossom trees from the city of Tokyo to the city of Washington, D.C. (Scott #4561-4652). The self-adhesive Forever stamps picture cherry trees in full bloom around the Tidal Basin. In the stamp on the left, trees arch over two girls dressed in bright kimonos and a family on a stroll with the Washington Monument in the background. On the second stamp, the Jefferson Memorial forms the backdrop for tourists taking in the sights under a canopy of pink blooms. Working with art director Phil Jordan, artist Paul Rogers created the stamp art. Ashton Potter printed 100,000,000 copies of the stamp using the offset process in panes of 20 with die-cut perforations measuribg 10¾. Paul Rogers’ blog features his original sketches for the issue.

The Japanese cherry trees line the paths of West Potomac Park. Their show of white and pink blossoms announce the coming of spring to Washington, D.C. Each year, thousands of visitors come to walk in the shade of the trees and take part in the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

The annual celebration first took place in 1934. The three-day event has grown to include parades, street fairs, and cultural events. In honor of the 100th anniversary of the planting of the cherry trees, 2012’s festival took place over five weeks.

Without Eliza Scidmore, there would be no cherry trees in the park. It took 24 years of diligence, and the help of President Taft’s wife, before Scidmore convinced the city to plant the first trees on the shores of the Potomac River.

Over the years, Japan donated thousands of additional flowering cherry trees until the lawns surrounding our national monuments are now lined with their beauty.

Each spring, the cherry trees put on a display of blossoms as they have for the last century, and visitors enjoy the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Because of the vision of Eliza Scidmore and the generosity of many donors, people will stroll under a canopy of blossoms for many years to come.


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