The Washington Monument was built to honor the military service and leadership skills of George Washington during the American Revolution. As far back as 1783, Congress proposed the creation of an equestrian statue of George Washington. Congressional approval was given and by 1791 a site for the statue had been selected. But from that point, little was done to advance the project from concept to reality.
Washington's death in 1799 brought about a renewed enthusiasm for the Monument. So John Marshall (Chief Justice of the United States) proposed that a final resting place be constructed for George Washington within the Capitol itself. A shortage of funding however, delayed the project. Undaunted, Marshall was determined to see his plan through. In 1833 he joined forces with James Madison and other concerned citizens. This group went on to found the Washington National Monument Society.
In 1836 the Society began accepting competitive designs for the Monument. Robert Mills won the competition. His design called for a nearly flat topped obelisk surrounded by a circular colonnade with Washington standing in a chariot. Inside the colonnade, statues of thirty prominent Revolutionary War heroes would be displayed.
In a grand ceremony on July 4, 1848, the cornerstone of the monument was laid. Lack of funding continued to plague the project and at one point, the Washington National Monument Society fell under the control of a political party called the Know Nothings. Their efforts to build the Monument were inauspicious at best, as they too suffered from a lack of financial support. And the onset of Civil War delayed the project even further.
During 1876, the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, Congress approved a contribution of $200,000. The design of the monument was modified to reflect the standard proportions of an Egyptian obelisk, and the colonnade portion of the Monument was obviated. In 1879 construction resumed under the supervision of Lt. Colonel Thomas L. Casey.
The completed Monument weighs in excess of 81,000 tons and stands 555' 5-1/8" tall. The walls range in thickness from 15' at the base to 18'' at the upper shaft. They are composed of white marble blocks from Maryland and Massachusetts. The foundation of the Monument is composed of Maryland blue gneiss and Maine granite.
The Washington Monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885. At that time, it was the tallest building in the world. The Monument was open to the public in October of 1888. To this day, the Monument remains the tallest stone structure in the world.
George Washington was a great man and a great American. He went by many titles during his life – Patriot, Commanding General, and President of the United States to name a few. But the title he coveted most is reflected in his own quote - “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”