December 6, 1884: the largest piece of aluminum in history up to that point is placed onto the Washington Monument, marking its completion. It wouldn’t be open to the public until October, four years later, but it was at this time that construction was finished. At the time of its completion it was the tallest man-made structure in the world, though it would be beaten by the Eiffel Tower in the years to come. The entire monument area spans across 106.01 acres and towers at an astonishing 555 feet over Washington DC. Anyone who has stood underneath it knows how it really embodies the adjective “towering.”
Construction began as the cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848. It was slow going, and wouldn’t be finished for over 30 years, taking a break during the Civil War and of course due to it simply being a difficult structure to build in that time. For example, finding enough stone in nearby quarries proved exceptionally difficult and other options had to be coordinated, resulting in infrequent deliveries of materials which slowed down progress.
The obelisk is dedicated to George Washington, hero of the Revolutionary war and the first president of the United States. He is a founding father that embodied many of the fundamental American principles the U.S. continues to strive toward today. When his time was up, he had the opportunity to take power and continue to rule, but he resigned like he said he would and the democratic process has been in full swing ever since. On this subject, Benjamin West, prolific British artist during the time of the American Revolution, had recently met with the King of England. West said that the even the King couldn’t help but think highly of Washington:
…that act closing and finishing what had gone before and viewed in connection with it, placed him in a light the most distinguished of any man living, and that he thought him the greatest character of the age.”
Though his image was actually quite controversial among political parties of early America, George Washington’s legendary status was solidified by the close of the Civil War, where both sides regarded him as a national hero instead of simply seeing him as a figure of the opposite political party.
When the Washington National Monument Society was formed to raise money and begin construction for the monument, they wanted it to fit this description:
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.”
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press