The Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., was dedicated on February 21, 1885. ASAD previously covered the early history of the monument’s design and construction in a post on the December 6 anniversary of its completion.
At the dedication ceremonies, over 800 people were present on the monument grounds to hear speeches during a frigid day by Ohio Senator John Sherman, the Reverend Henderson Suter, William Wilson Corcoran (of the Washington National Monument Society) read by Dr. James C. Welling because Corcoran was unable to attend, Freemason Myron M. Parker, Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey of the Army Corps of Engineers, and President Chester A. Arthur. President Arthur proclaimed:
“I do now …. in behalf of the people, receive this monument …. and declare it dedicated from this time forth to the immortal name and memory of George Washington.“
After the speeches, Lieutenant-General Philip Sheridan led a procession, which included the dignitaries and the crowd, past the Executive Mansion, now the White House, then via Pennsylvania Avenue to the east main entrance of the Capitol, where President Arthur received passing troops. Then, in the House Chamber, the President, his Cabinet, diplomats and others listened to Representative John Davis Long read a speech written a few months earlier by Robert C. Winthrop, formerly the Speaker of the House of Representatives when the cornerstone was laid 37 years earlier, but now too ill to personally deliver his speech. A final speech was given by John W. Daniel of Virginia. The festivities concluded that evening with fireworks, both aerial and ground displays.
At the time of its completion, it was the tallest building in the world, a title it retained until the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889. It is the tallest building in Washington, D.C. The Heights of Buildings Act of 1910 restricts new building heights to no more than 20 feet (6.1 m) greater than the width of the adjacent street. This monument is vastly taller than the obelisks around the capitals of Europe and in Egypt and Ethiopia, but ordinary antique obelisks were quarried as a monolithic block of stone, and were therefore seldom taller than approximately 100 feet (30 m).
The Washington Monument attracted enormous crowds before it officially opened. For six months after its dedication, 10,041 people climbed the 898 steps and 50 landings to the top. After the elevator that had been used to raise building materials was altered to carry passengers, the number of visitors grew rapidly, and an average of 55,000 people per month were going to the top by 1888. The annual visitor count peaked between 1979 and 1997, where an average of 1.1 million visitors visited annually; however, from 2005 to 2010, the Washington Monument has had an average of only 631,000 visitors each year. As with all historic areas administered by the National Park Service, the national memorial was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.
In the early 1900s, material started oozing out between the outer stones of the first construction period below the 150-foot mark, and was referred to by tourists as “geological tuberculosis”. This was caused by the weathering of the cement and rubble filler between the outer and inner walls. As the lower section of the monument was exposed to cold and hot and damp and dry weather conditions, the material dissolved and worked its way through the cracks between the stones of the outer wall, solidifying as it dripped down their outer surface.
For ten hours in December 1982, the Washington Monument and eight tourists were held hostage by a nuclear arms protester, Norman Mayer, claiming to have explosives in a van he drove to the monument’s base. U.S. Park Police shot and killed Mayer. The monument was undamaged in the incident, and it was discovered later that Mayer did not have explosives. After this incident, the surrounding grounds were modified in places to restrict the possible unauthorized approach of motor vehicles.
The monument underwent an extensive restoration project between 1998 and 2001. During this time it was completely covered in scaffolding designed by the American architect Michael Graves (who was also responsible for the interior changes). The project included cleaning, repairing and repointing the monument’s exterior and interior stonework. The stone in publicly accessible interior spaces was encased in glass to prevent vandalism, while new windows with narrower frames were installed (to increase the viewing space). New exhibits celebrating the life of George Washington, and the monument’s place in history, were also added.
A temporary interactive visitors center, dubbed the “Discovery Channel Center” was also constructed during the project. The center provided a simulated ride to the top of the monument, and shared information with visitors during phases in which the monument was closed. The majority of the project’s phases were completed by summer 2000, allowing the monument to reopen July 31, 2000. The monument temporarily closed again on December 4, 2000, to allow a new elevator cab to be installed, completing the final phase of the restoration project. The new cab included glass windows, allowing visitors to see some of the 194 memorial stones embedded in the monument’s walls. The installation of the cab took much longer than anticipated, and the monument did not reopen until February 22, 2002. The final cost of the restoration project was $10.5 million.
On September 7, 2004, the monument closed for a $15 million renovation, which included numerous security upgrades and redesign of the monument grounds by landscape architect Laurie Olin. The renovations were due partly to security concerns following the September 11 attacks and the start of the War on Terror. The monument reopened April 1, 2005, while the surrounding grounds remained closed until the landscape was finished later that summer.
On August 23, 2011, the Washington Monument sustained damage during the 5.8 magnitude 2011 Virginia earthquake; over 150 cracks were found in the monument. A National Park Service spokesperson reported that inspectors discovered a crack near the top of the structure, and announced that the monument would be closed indefinitely. A block in the pyramidion also was partially dislodged, and pieces of stone, stone chips, mortar, and paint chips came free of the monument and “littered” the interior stairs and observation deck. The Park Service said it was bringing in two structural engineering firms (Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.and Tipping Mar Associates) with extensive experience in historic buildings and earthquake-damaged structures to assess the monument.
Officials said an examination of the monument’s exterior revealed a “debris field” of mortar and pieces of stone around the base of the monument, and several “substantial” pieces of stone had fallen inside the memorial. A crack in the central stone of the west face of the pyramidion was 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide and 4 feet (1.2 m) long. Park Service inspectors also discovered that the elevator system had been damaged, and was operating only to the 250-foot (76 m) level, but was soon repaired.
On September 27, 2011, Denali National Parkranger Brandon Latham arrived to assist four climbers belonging to a “difficult access” team from Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates. The reason for the inspection was the park agency’s suspicion that there were more cracks on the monument’s upper section not visible from the inside. The agency said it filled the cracks that occurred on August 23. After Hurricane Irene hit the area on August 27, water was discovered inside the memorial, leading the Park Service to suspect there was more undiscovered damage. The rappellers used radios to report what they found to engineering experts on the ground. Wiss, Janney, Elstner climber Dave Megerle took three hours to set up the rappelling equipment and set up a barrier around the monument’s lightning rod system atop the pyramidion; it was the first time the hatch in the pyramidion had been open since 2000.
The external inspection of the monument was completed October 5, 2011. In addition to the 4-foot (1.2 m) long west crack, the inspection found several corner cracks and surface spalls (pieces of stone broken loose) at or near the top of the monument, and more loss of joint mortar lower down the monument. The full report was issued in December 2011. Bob Vogel, Superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, emphasized that the monument was not in danger of collapse. “It’s structurally sound and not going anywhere”, he told the national media at a press conference on September 26, 2011.
More than $200,000 was spent between August 24 and September 26 inspecting the structure. The National Park Service said that it would soon begin sealing the exterior cracks on the monument to protect it from rain and snow.
On July 9, 2012, the National Park Serviceannounced that the monument would be closed for repairs until 2014. The National Park Service hired construction management firm Hill International in conjunction with joint-venture partner Louis Berger Group to provide coordination between the designer, Wiss, Janney, and Elstner Associates, the general contractor Perini, and numerous stakeholders. NPS said a portion of the plaza at the base of the monument would be removed and scaffolding constructed around the exterior. In July 2013, lighting was added to the scaffolding. Some stone pieces saved during the 2011 inspection will be refastened to the monument, while “Dutchman patches” were used in other places. Several of the stone lips that help hold the pyramidion’s 2,000-pound (910 kg) exterior slabs in place were also damaged, so engineers installed metal brackets to more securely fasten them to the monument.
The National Park Service reopened the Washington Monument to visitors on May 12, 2014, eight days ahead of schedule. Repairs to the monument cost US$15,000,000, with taxpayers funding $7.5 million of the cost and David Rubenstein funding the other $7.5 million. At the reopening, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Today show weatherman Al Roker, and American Idol Season 12 winner Candice Glover were present.
The monument continues to be plagued by problems since the earthquake, including in January 2017 when the lights illuminating it went out.
Since the dedication in 1885, states, cities, foreign countries, benevolent societies, other organizations, and individuals have contributed 194 memorial stones, all inserted into the east and west interior walls above stair landings or levels for easy viewing, except one on the south interior wall between stairs that is difficult to view. The sources disagree on the number of stones for two reasons: whether one or both “height stones” are included, and stones not yet on display at the time of a source’s publication cannot be included. The “height stones” refer to two stones that indicate height: during the first phase of construction a stone with an inscription that includes the phrase “from the foundation to this height 100 feet” was installed just below the 80–90-foot stairway and high above the 60–70-foot stairway; during the second phase of construction a stone with a horizontal line and the phrase “top of statue on Capitol” was installed on the 330-foot level.
The Historic Structure Report (HSR, 2004) named 194 “memorial stones” by level, including both height stones. described in detail and pictured 193 “commemorative stones”, including the 100-foot stone but not the Capitolstone. The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS, 1994) showed the location of 193 “memorial stones”, but did not describe or name any. HABS showed both height stones, but did not show one stone not yet installed in 1994.
Of 194 stones, 95 are marble, 41 are granite, 30 are limestone, 9 are sandstone, with 19 miscellaneous types, including combinations of the aforesaid and those whose materials are not identified. Unusual materials include native copper (Michigan), pipestone (Minnesota), petrified wood (Arizona), and jadeite (Alaska). The stones vary in size from about 1.5 feet (0.46 m) square (Carthage) to about 6 by 8 feet (1.8 m × 2.4 m) (Philadelphia and New York City).
Utah contributed one stone as a territory and another as a state, both with inscriptions that include its pre-territorial name, Deseret, both located on the 220-foot level.
A stone at the 240-foot level of the monument is inscribed in Welsh: Fy Iaith, Fy Ngwlad, Fy Nghenedl, Cymry am byth (“Our language, our country, our birthplace, Wales forever”). The stone, imported from Wales, was donated by Welsh citizens of New York. Two other stones were presented by the Sunday Schools of the Methodist Episcopal Church in New York and the Sabbath School children of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia — the former quotes from the Bible verse Proverbs 10:7, “The memory of the just is blessed”.
Another inscription, this one sent by the Ottoman government, combines the works of two eminent calligraphers: an imperial tughra by Mustafa Rakım’s student Haşim Efendi, and an inscription in jalī ta’līq script by Kadıasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi, the calligrapher who wrote the giant medallions at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
One stone was donated by the Ryukyu Kingdom and brought back by Commodore Matthew C. Perry, but never arrived in Washington (it was replaced in 1989). Many of the stones donated for the monument carried inscriptions which did not commemorate George Washington. For example, one from the Templars of Honor and Temperance stated “We will not make, buy, sell, or use as a beverage, any spiritous or malt liquors, Wine, Cider, or any other Alcoholic Liquor.” (George Washington himself had owned a whiskey distillery which operated at Mount Vernon after he left the presidency.)
The monument is filled with ironwork, consisting of its stairs, elevator columns and associated tie beams, none of which supports the weight of the stonework. It was redesigned in 1958 to reduce congestion and improve the flow of visitors. Originally, visitors entered and exited the west side of the elevator on the observation floor, causing congestion. So the large landing at the 490-foot level was expanded to a full floor and the original spiral stair in the northeast corner between the 490- and 500-foot levels was replaced by two spiral stairs in the northeast and southeast corners. Now visitors exit the elevator on the observation floor, then walk down either spiral stair before reboarding the elevator for their trip back down.
The main stairs spiral up the interior walls from the entry lobby floor to the elevator reboarding floor at the 490-foot level. The elevator occupies the center of the shaft well from the entry lobby to the observation floor, with an elevator machine room (installed 1925–1926) whose floor is 18 feet 10 inches (5.7 m) above the observation floor and an elevator pit (excavated 1879) whose floor is 9 feet (2.74 m) below the entry lobby floor. The stairs and elevator are supported by four wrought iron columns each. The four supporting the stairs extend from the entry lobby floor to the observation floor and were set at the corners of a 15-foot-8-inch (4.78 m) square. The four supporting the elevator extend from the floor of the elevator pit to 14 feet (4.3 m) above the observation floor and were set at the corners of a 9-foot-9 1⁄2-inch (2.98 m) square. The weight of the ironwork is 275 long tons (308 short tons; 279 tonnes). Cast iron, wrought iron, and steel were all used. The two small spiral stairs installed in 1958 are aluminum.
Most landings occupy the entire east and west interior walls every 10 feet from and including the east landing at the 30-foot level up to the west landing at the 480-foot level, east then west alternately. Three stairs with small landings rise from the entry lobby floor to the 30-foot level successively along the north, west and south interior walls. Landings from the 30-foot level up to the 150-foot level are 3 feet 2 1⁄4 inches (0.97 m) by 25 feet 1 inch (7.65 m), while landings from the 160-foot level to the 480-foot level are 7 feet 10 3⁄4 inches (2.41 m) by 31 feet 5 1⁄2 inches (9.59 m). All stairs are on the north and south walls except for the aforementioned west stair between the 10- and 20-foot levels, and the two spiral stairs.
About one fourth of visitors chose to ascend the monument using the stairs when they were available. They were closed to up traffic in 1971, and then closed to all traffic except by special arrangement in 1976. The stairs had 898 steps until 1958, consisting of 18 risers in each of the 49 main stairs plus 16 risers in the spiral stairs. Since 1958 the stairs have had 897 risers if only one spiral stair is counted because both spiral stairs now have 15 risers each. These figures do not include two additional steps in the entry passage that were covered up in 1975 by a ramp and its inward horizontal extension to meet the higher (since 1886) entry lobby floor. One step was 3.2 feet (1 m) away from the outer walls and the other was at the end of the passage, 15 feet (4.6 m) away from the outer walls.
As initially constructed, the interior was relatively open with two-rail handrails, but a couple of suicides and an accidental fall prompted the addition of tall wire screening (7 feet (2.1 m) high with a large diamond mesh) on the inside edge of the stairs and landings in 1929. The original steam powered elevator, which took 10 to 12 minutes to ascend to the observation floor, was replaced by an electric elevator powered by an on-site dynamo in 1901 which took five minutes to ascend. The monument was connected to the electrical grid in 1923, allowing the installation of a modern electric elevator in 1925–1926 which took 70 seconds. The latter was replaced in 1958 and again in 1998 by 70-second elevators. During 1997–2000, the wire screening at three platforms was replaced by large glass panels to allow visitors on the elevator to view three clusters of memorial stones that were synchronously lit as the elevator automatically slowed as it passed them during its descent.
Fifty American flags (not state flags), one for each state, are now flown 24 hours a day around a large circle centered on the monument. Forty eight American flags (one for each state then in existence) were flown on wooden flag poles on Washington’s birthday since 1920 and later on Independence Day, Memorial Day, and other special occasions until early 1958. Both the flags and flag poles were removed and stored between these days. In 1958, fifty 25-foot (7.6 m) tall aluminum flag poles (anticipating Alaska and Hawaii) were installed, evenly spaced around a 260-foot (79 m) diameter circle. During 2004–2005, the diameter of the circle was reduced to 240 feet (73 m). Since Washington’s birthday 1958, 48 American flags were flown on a daily basis, increasing to 49 flags on July 4, 1959, and then to 50 flags since July 4, 1960. When 48 and 49 flags were flown, only 48 and 49 flag poles of the available 50 were placed into base receptacles. All flags were removed and stored overnight. Since July 4, 1971, 50 American flags have flown 24 hours a day.
In 2001, a temporary visitor security screening center was added to the east entrance of the Washington Monument in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The one-story facility was designed to reduce the ability of a terrorist attack on the interior of the monument, or an attempt to seize and hold it. Visitors obtained their timed-entry tickets from the Monument Lodge east of the memorial, and passed through metal detectors and bomb-sniffing sensors prior to entering the monument. After exiting the monument, they passed through a turnstile to prevent them from re-entering. This facility, a one-story cube of wood around a metal frame, was intended to be temporary until a new screening facility could be designed.
On March 6, 2014, the National Capital Planning Commission approved a new visitor screening facility to replace the temporary one. The 785-square-foot (72.9 m2) facility is two stories high and contain space for screening 20 to 25 visitors at a time. The exterior walls are slightly frosted to prevent viewing of the security screening process and consist of an outer sheet of bulletproof glass or polycarbonate, a metal mesh insert, and another sheet of bulletproof glass. The inner sheet consists of two sheets (slightly separated) of laminated glass. A 0.5-inch (1.3 cm) airspace exists between the inner and outer glass walls to help insulate the facility. Two geothermal heat pumps were built on the north side of the monument to provide heating and cooling of the facility. The new facility also provides an office for National Park Service and United States Park Police staff. The structure was designed so that it may be removed without damaging the monument. The United States Commission of Fine Arts approved the aesthetic design of the screening facility in June 2013.
A recessed trench wall known as a ha-ha has been built to minimize the visual impact of a security barrier surrounding the monument. After the September 11 attacks and another unrelated terror threat at the monument, authorities had put up a circle of temporary Jersey barriers to prevent large motor vehicles from approaching. The unsightly barrier was replaced by a less-obtrusive low 30-inch (0.76 m) granite stone wall that doubles as a seating bench and also incorporates lighting. The installation received the 2005 Park/Landscape Award of Merit from the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Scott #1158 was released on September 28, 1960, in Washington, D.C. Designed by Gyo Fujikawa, the 4-cent stamp commemorates the 100th anniversary of the first treaty promoting mutual understanding and goodwill between the U.S. and Japan. It pictures the Washington Monument surrounded by sprays of Japanese cherry blossoms and was printed on the Giori press in panes of 50 stamps each.
Currently, the Washington Monument is scheduled to reopen in the spring of 2019 following the modernization of the elevator system.