On December 6, 1884, the District of Columbia saw the Washington Monument come to completion after more than a century of planning and building.
A tribute to none other than George Washington himself, the structure went through many iterations before taking the form of the 555-foot tall obelisk that exists today.
As far back as 1783, when Congress was still a new body, it decided that an equestrian statue of Washington should be built somewhere in the vicinity of the Capitol to honor the General’s military service during the Revolutionary War. When architect Pierre L’Enfant designed the layout of the fledgling capital in 1791, he created a space for the statue on the western end of the National Mall, near the monument’s present site. The project, however, would lie dormant for several years.
With Washington’s death in 1799 came renewed vigor to see the structure built. According to the National Park Service, “John Marshall proposed that a special sepulcher be erected for the General within the Capitol itself. Lack of funds postponed construction, but Marshall persevered, and in 1833, he, James Madison, and others formed the Washington National Monument Society. By 1836, the society advertised for competitive architectural designs. The winning architect was Robert Mills, whose design called for a neoclassical plan which provided for a nearly-flat-topped obelisk surrounded by a circular colonnade on which would stand a statue of Washington in a chariot. Inside the colonnade, statues of thirty prominent Revolutionary War heroes would be displayed.”
On July 4, 1848, the cornerstone was laid, but progress quickly slowed when funding became scarce, and six years later the project was halted. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, no further efforts were made until 1876, when construction began again and the design was once again altered, taking the form of the Egyptian-like obelisk that America knows today.
Upon completion, the obelisk weighed in at 81,120 tons — a fitting tribute to a man who played such a weighty role in the founding of America.