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The Washington Monument

Egyptian Ideas in the Nation's Capital


Ancient Egyptian architecture inspired the design of the Washington Monument.
The Washington Monument in Washington D.C.

The Washington Monument in Washington D.C.

Photo © Jackie Craven

The Washington Monument

Cornerstone Laid: July 4, 1848
Dedication Ceremony: February 21, 1885
Officially Opened: October 9, 1888
Style: Egyptian Revival
Architect: Robert Mills; Redesigned by Lt. Colonel Thomas Casey (US Army Corps of Engineers)
Height: 555 feet 5-1/8 inches (169.29 m)
Dimensions: 55 feet 1-1/2 inches (16.80 m) each side at the base, tapering to 34 feet 5-5/8 inches (10.5 m) at 500 feet level (top of shaft and bottom of pyramid); the foundation is reportedly 80 feet by 80 feet
Weight: 81,120 tons
Wall Thickness: From 15 feet (4.6 m) at bottom to 18 inches (460 mm) at the top
Construction Materials: Stone masonry -- white marble (Maryland and Massachusetts), Texas marble, Maryland blue gneiss, granite (Maine), and sandstone
Number of Blocks: 36,491
Number of US Flags: 50 flags (one for each state) encircle the base

Learn About the Washington Monument:

Architect Robert Mills initial design honored America's first president, George Washington, with a 600-foot (183 m) tall, square, flat-topped pillar. At the base of the pillar, Mills envisioned an elaborate colonnade with statues of thirty Revolutionary War heroes and a soaring sculpture of George Washington in a chariot. Learn more about the original design for the Washington Monument.

To build Robert Mills' monument would have cost over a million dollars (more than $21 million in modern dollars). Plans for the colonnade were postponed and eventually eliminated. The Washington Monument evolved into a simple, tapered stone obelisk topped with a geometric pyramid. The pyramid shape of the monument was inspired by ancient Egyptian architecture.

Political strife, the Civil War, and money shortages delayed construction on the Washington Monument. Because of interruptions, the stones are not all the same shade. Part way up, at 150 feet (45 m), the masonry blocks are a slightly different color. Thirty years passed before the monument was completed in 1884. At that time, the Washington Monument was the tallest structure in the world. It's still the tallest structure in Washington D.C.

Renovations at the Washington Monument:

In 1999, the Washington Monument faced extensive renovations. Postmodernist architect Michael Graves surrounded the monument with distinctive scaffolding made from 37 miles of aluminum tubing. The scaffolding took four months to erect and became a tourist attraction in itself.

Earthquake Damage at the Washington Monument:

Twelve years later, in August 23, 2011, masonry cracked during an earthquake. Damage was assessed inside and out, with specialists examining each side of the famous obelisk. Remarkable videos of the assessment have been posted to YouTube by the National Park Service. Architectural engineers from Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. (WJE) delivered a detailed and illustrated report, Washington Monument Post-Earthquake Assessment (PDF), on December 22, 2011. Major repairs are planned to reinforce the cracks with steel plates, replace and shore up loose pieces of marble, and re-seal joints.

More Photos:
Washington Monument Illumination: Shining a Light on Architecture:

Learn more from About.com about the beauty of scaffolding and the challenges and lessons in lighting tall structures.

The Washington Monument in the News:

More About the Washington Monument:

Sources: Washington Monument Post-Earthquake Assessment, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., Tipping Mar (PDF); Washington Monument Travel, National Park Service (NPS); Washington Monument -- American Presidents, National Park Service [accessed August 14, 2013]

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