Commemorating the first president of the United States, George Washington, the Washington Monument is a large obelisk made of marble, granite, and sandstone near the center of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.Standing at 555 feet and 5 inches (169.294 meters), the monument is the world's tallest stone structure, and the highest structure in Washington, D.C. Designed initially by architect Robert Mills in the 1830s, the construction of the monument began in 1848 with the laying of the cornerstone on July 4 of that year but was not finished until 1884, nearly 30 years after the architect's death. Funding shortfalls and the U.S. Civil War delayed the monument's construction, which took place during two phases, 1848-56 and 1876-84. A horizontal line of different colored marble is 150 feet up the monument indicates where construction resume in 1876. With the capstone set on December 6, 1884 and the monument dedicated on February 21 1885, the structure was officially opened to the public on October 9, 1888. Although it became the world's tallest structure upon completion, it lost that title in 1889 when the Eiffel tower was finished in Paris, France.
Although as early as 1783, the Continental Congress had resolved to erect an equestrian statue of George Washington in the new capital to honor Washington's role as commander-in chief of the armies of the United Sates of America during the Revolutionary War. Following Washington's death in 1799, attempts to construct a monument renewed but a lack of funds and disagreement over the monument design prevented construction.
Progress toward a monument began again in 1832, the year marking the 100th anniversary of Washington's birth. A large group of concerned citizens from the Washington National Monument Society and began donation collections. By the mid-1830s, the society has raised over $28,000 and announced a competition for the monument's design.
Design Architect Robert Mills won the commission in 1936. His plan called for a 600-foot (183 m) talk obelisk, a four-sided pillar that tapers rose. The obelisk would have a circular colonnade at the base, featuring a statue of Washington standing on a chariot. Inside the colonnade, statues of 30 prominent Revolutionary war heroes would stand.
However, criticism over Mill's design and the proposed cost of more than $1 million (over $21 million in 2008 dollars) led the society to begin construction in 1848 using the available funds of $87,000 that had already been collected and leave the question of the colonnade for later.
Excavation on the foundation of the Washington Monument began in the spring of 1848. The cornerstone was laid as during a Fourth of July ceremony hosted by the Freemasons. In 1849, the society began a policy of encouraging all states and territories to donate memorial stones that could be fitted into the interior walls. Society members believed the practice would make citizens feel they had a part in building the monument, but doing so would cut costs by limiting the amount of stone that needed to be purchased. Native American tribes, professional organizations, societies, and foreign nations donated block of granite, marble, or sandstone that were 4 feet by 2 feet by 18 inches (1.2 m by 0.6 m by 0.5 m). Among the contributions in the early was a marble block from Pope Pius IX. In March 1854, members of the anti-Catholic, nativist American Party also known as the "Know-Nothings" stole the Pope's stone in protest, supposedly throwing it into the Potomac. Then, the Know-Nothings managed to take over leadership of the society in an effort ensure the monument fit their definition of "American".
Congress had appropriated $200,000 to continue work on the monument in 1855, but rescinded the contribution before any of the money could be spend following the take over by the Know Nothings.
But unable to garner enough money to finish work, Know Nothings lost public support. By 1858, the Know-Nothings gave up leadership of the society, but the halt in construction continued into, then after, the Civil War. During that time, the monument stood at less than one-third of its proposed height. More than a decade following the conflict's end, America celebrated the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1876, and Congress appropriated another $200,000 to resume construction. But before work could begin again, arguments about the most appropriate design resurfaced. Some thought a simple obelisk, one without the colonnade, would be too stark. These discussions prompted the submissions of alternative designs.
Finally, after subsequent discussions within the society and Congress, society members agreed to abandon the colonnade and alter the obelisk to conform to classical Egyptian proportions.
In 1879, construction resumed under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Redesigning the foundation, Casey strengthened it to support more weight. He then carried out the society's plans to include all 193 memorial stones that had been donated into the interior walls of the monument. Builders were unable to utilize the same quarry stone that had been used in the bottom third of the monument, resulting in a slightly lighter shade in the remaining construction.
After Completion At the time of its completion, the monument was the tallest building in the world. And to this day, it remains the tallest stone structure in the world and the tallest building in Washington, D.C. A popular misconception is that zoning laws int the district specifically restricts buildings taller than the Washington Monument. Rather, a 1910 law restricts new building heights to less than 20 feet greater than the width of the length street block that the building is on. Obelisks of antiquity were seldom taller than around 100 feet (30 m), making the Washington monument far taller than the obelisks in Europe and in Egypt.
The elevator used to raise building materials during construction was altered to carry passengers. An average of 55,000 people per month went to the top starting in 1888. Today, more than 80,000 visitors enter the Washington Monument each year.