Washington National Monument: Overview

Introduction Credits:
Randolph H. Lytton, Pim van den Assum

Introduction Date:

Introduction Text:

The Washington National Monument, located on The Mall, was constructed during the 19th century (1848-1856, 1876-1884). More recently (1962, 2000 and 2005) there have been exterior and interior restorations and improvements. Although a number of designs and architects were involved in the creative process, architect Robert Mills (1836-1848) is given primary credit for the obelisk structure. This is the fifth classically-styled monument or building in Washington, D.C. that Mills had a hand in designing: the Treasury Building (1836-1842); The Capitol (1836-1851); The National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum /Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture - Old Patent Office Building (1836-1851); United States Tariff Commission Building - United States General Post Office (1839-1842); and possibly St. John's Church (1842 renovation?).

Various monuments were proposed for George Washington, our Pater Patriae (father of the country), including an equestrian stature, a pyramidal mausoleum, and Mill's originally envisioned 600-foot "Egyptian" obelisk on top of a colonnaded circular "Greek" temple supported by a base. Patterned on a combination of Hadrian's tomb in Rome and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Washington National Monument was to serve as a "pantheon" to honor the heroes of the American Revolution and presidents. Washington was to be especially honored by placing him in a Roman toga in a Greek chariot driven by an Etruscan winged Victory on the projecting portico. Mills hoped that George Washington would be reburied (from Mt. Vernon) within the monument, and that catacombs underneath the structure would be the final resting place for other notable Americans (Scott & Lee, pp. 100-101). Talk about combination of ancient and classical motifs.

By 1848, after The Monument Society consulted with Robert Mills, the design of height of the obelisk was changed to 500 feet and the temple base was eliminated. Finally an obelisk of 555 feet was chosen, including a 50-foot pyramid on the top. Also included were two Egyptian Revival doorways on the north and south fronts on the north and south fronts ornamented with winged orbs. Thirteen of the tribute blocks have Latin inscriptions and two others have Greek inscriptions. One of the stones from Greece, cut from Pentelic marble taken from the Parthenon temple in Athens, is dedicated to George Washington by "the country of Solon, Themistocles and Pericles, the mother of ancient freedom" (Ziolkowski, p. 18).

Document List

Washington Monument by Night, Washington, D. C. (no date)
A remarkable view of the Washington Monument as a powerful searchlight played about the top of the shaft and the reflection was perfect in the Lincoln Memorial Pool. At the left of the monument the snow white dome of the Capitol reflected itself in the water, making a perfect picture.
Washington Monument, Washington, D. C. (no date)
at Washington is a stupendous shaft of granite, 555 feet 5 1-3 inches in height. It is 55 feet square at the base, 34 feet at the top, and terminates in a pyramid of pure aluminum. The foundation of rock and cement is 36 feet deep, 125 feet square. The cornerstone was laid 1848, the Monument was finished in 1885. It is the highest work of masonry in the world.
In Memory Of Washington (no date)
One of the most beautiful and most famous cities in the world, Washington, D. C., capitol of the United States attracts thousands of visitors a year.
Washington Monument and Cherry Blossoms, By Night, Washington, D. C. (no date)
A beautiful vista through the famous Cherry Blossom Trees, surrounding the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.
The Obelisk, Central Park. New York. (no date)
OBELISK, CENTRAL PARK. This is a 200 ton monolith brought from Egypt in 1880 and said to be 3400 years old. It, therefore, is a great curiosity, not only on account of its age, but also because of the Egyptian hieroglyphics written thereon.
The Washington Monument from the Pan-American Union, Washington, D. C. (no date)
The Washington Monument is a stupendous shaft of marble. 555 feet 5 1-3 inches in height. It is the most conspicuous object on the Washington sky line. The view is taken looking down the main driveway of the Pan-American Union.