Washington Monument

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The Washington Monument is an obelisk on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., built to commemorate the first U.S. president, General George Washington. The monument, made of marble, granite, and bluestone gneiss, is both the world's tallest stone structure and the world's tallest obelisk, standing 555 feet 51⁄8 inches (169.294 m).[n 1] Taller monumental columns exist, but they are neither all stone nor true obelisks.[n 2] Construction of the monument began in 1848, but was halted from 1854 to 1877, and finally completed in 1884. The hiatus in construction happened because of co-option by the Know Nothing party, a lack of funds, and the intervention of the American Civil War. A difference in shading of the marble, visible approximately 150 feet (46 m) or 27% up, shows where construction was halted. Its original design was by Robert Mills, an architect of the 1840s, but his design was modified significantly when construction resumed. The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848; the capstone was set on December 6, 1884, and the completed monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885. It officially opened October 9, 1888. Upon completion, it became the world's tallest structure, a title previously held by the Cologne Cathedral. The monument held this designation until 1889, when the Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris, France. The monument stands due east of the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial. The monument was damaged during the Virginia earthquake of August 23, 2011; it remains closed to the public while the structure is assessed and repaired. The National Park Service estimates the monument will be closed until 2014. Difficulties in repair include complexities such as the time needed to erect scaffolding.
The Washington Monument was originally intended to be located at the point at which a line running directly south from the center of the White House crossed a line running directly west from the center of the Capitol. Pierre Charles L'Enfant's 1791 "Plan of the city intended for the permanent seat of t(he) government of the United States ..." designated this point as the location of the equestrian statue of George Washington that the Continental Congress had voted for in 1783.[n 3] However, the ground at the intended location proved to be too unstable to support a structure as heavy as the planned obelisk. At that site, 390 feet (119 m) WNW from the Monument, there now stands a small monolith called the Jefferson Pier.
Excavation for the foundation of the Monument began in early 1848. The cornerstone was laid as part of an elaborate Fourth of July ceremony hosted by the Freemasons, a worldwide fraternal organization to which Washington belonged. Speeches that day showed the country continued to revere Washington. One celebrant noted, "No more Washingtons shall come in our time ... But his virtues are stamped on the heart of mankind. He who is great in the battlefield looks upward to the generalship of Washington. He who grows wise in counsel feels that he is imitating Washington. He who can resign power against the wishes of a people, has in his eye the bright example of Washington."
Construction continued until 1854, when donations ran out. The next year, Congress voted to appropriate $200,000 to continue the work, but rescinded before the money could be spent. This reversal came because of a new policy the society had adopted in 1849. It had agreed, after a request from some Alabamians, to encourage all states and territories to donate commemorative stones that could be fitted into the interior walls. Members of the society believed this practice would make citizens feel they had a part in building the monument, and it would cut costs by limiting the amount of stone that had to be bought. Blocks of Maryland marble, granite and sandstone steadily appeared at the site. American Indian tribes, professional organizations, societies, businesses and foreign nations donated stones that were 4 feet by 2 feet by 12–18 inches (1.2 m by 0.6 m by 0.3 – 0.5 m). One stone was donated by the Ryukyu Kingdom and brought back by Commodore Matthew C. Perry, but never arrived in Washington (it was replaced in 1989). Many of the stones donated for the monument, however, carried inscriptions which did not commemorate George Washington. For example, one from the Templars of Honor and Temperance stated "We will not buy, sell, or use as a beverage, any spiritous or malt liquors, Wine, Cider, or any other Alcoholic Liquor." It was just one commemorative stone that started the events that stopped the Congressional appropriation and ultimately construction altogether. In the early 1850s, Pope Pius IX contributed a block of marble. In March 1854, members of the anti-Catholic, nativist American Party — better known as the "Know-Nothings"—stole the Pope's stone as a protest and supposedly threw it into the Potomac (it was replaced in 1982). Then, in order to make sure the monument fit the definition of "American" at that time, the Know-Nothings conducted an illegal election so they could take over the entire society. Congress immediately rescinded its $200,000 contribution.
The Know-Nothings retained control of the society until 1858, adding 13 courses of masonry to the monument, all of which were of such poor quality that they were later removed. Unable to collect enough money to finish work, they increasingly lost public support. The Know-Nothings eventually gave up and returned all records to the original society, but the stoppage in construction continued into, then after, the Civil War.
Interest in the monument grew after the Civil War ended. Engineers studied the foundation several times to see whether it remained strong enough. In 1876, the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence, Congress agreed to appropriate another $200,000 to resume construction. The monument, which had stood for nearly 20 years at less than one-third of its proposed height, now seemed ready for completion.
Before work could begin again, however, arguments about the most appropriate design resumed. Many people thought a simple obelisk, one without the colonnade, would be too bare. Architect Mills was reputed to have said omitting the colonnade would make the monument look like "a stalk of asparagus"; another critic said it offered "little ... to be proud of."This attitude led people to submit alternative designs. Both the Washington National Monument Society and Congress held discussions about how the monument should be finished. The society considered five new designs, concluding that the one by William Wetmore Story seemed "vastly superior in artistic taste and beauty." Congress deliberated over those five as well as Mills' original; while it was deciding, it ordered work on the obelisk to continue. Finally, the members of the society agreed to abandon the colonnade and alter the obelisk so it conformed to classical Egyptian proportions.
Construction resumed in 1879 under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Casey redesigned the foundation, strengthening it so it could support a structure that ultimately weighed more than 40,000 tons. He then followed the society's orders and figured out what to do with the commemorative stones that had accumulated. Though many people ridiculed them, Casey managed to install most of the stones in the interior walls — one stone was found at the bottom of the elevator shaft in 1951. One difficulty that is visible to this day is that the builders were unable to find the same quarry stone used in the initial construction, and as a result, the bottom third of the monument is a slightly lighter shade than the rest of the construction.
The building of the monument proceeded quickly after Congress had provided sufficient funding. In four years, it was finally completed, with the 100 ounce (2.85 kg) aluminum apex/lightning-rod being put in place on December 6, 1884. The apex was the largest single piece of aluminum cast at the time, when aluminum commanded a price comparable to silver. Two years later, the Hall–Héroult process made aluminum easier to produce and the price of aluminum plummeted, making the once-valuable apex nearly worthless, though it still provided a lustrous, non-rusting apex that served as the original lightning rod. The monument opened to the public on October 9, 1888.
The Monument was formally dedicated on February 21, 1885. Over 800 people attended to hear speeches by Ohio Senator John Sherman, William Wilson Corcoran (of the Washington National Monument Society), Thomas Lincoln Casey of the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. President Chester Arthur. After the speeches General William Tecumseh Sherman led a procession, which included the dignitaries and the crowd, to the east main entrance of the Capitol building, where President Arthur received passing troops. Then, in the House Chamber, the president, his Cabinet, diplomats and others listened to Representative John Davis Long read a speech given 37 years earlier at the laying of the cornerstone. A final speech was given by Virginia governor John W. Daniel.
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