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What is the Washington Monument?

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  • Written By: O. Wallace
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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The Washington Monument, located on the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is perhaps one of the most memorable and well known landmarks in the United States. Built to memorialize George Washington, the first president of the US, and Commander of the Continental Army, the monument pays a dramatic tribute. It is located on 15th Street, and visible from miles away. One of the most famous vistas in Washington D.C. is the reflection of the memorial in the Reflecting Pool, which lies between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

The monument’s Egyptian obelisk design was conceived in 1848 by American architect Robert Mills, winner of a design competition for the tribute. The price tag of 1 million US Dollars (USD) — nearly 21 million USD in 2007 dollars — was staggering to many, but with a donation of 37 acres from Congress, construction began that same year. The cornerstone of the Washington Monument was placed on 4 July 1848. The society behind the monument was optimistic that donations would continue to flow to finance the project.

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By 1858, the fund and the government were out of money, and the Washington Monument sat unfinished until 1878 when work resumed. Because the original stone quarried from Texas, Maryland and Massachusetts was unavailable, there is a distinct change in color on the exterior walls. Although it was finally completed 6 December 1884 when its aluminum capstone was placed, it was not open to the general public until 1888. At the time, the memorial was the tallest in the world until the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris, France.

At just a hair over 555 feet (169 m) tall, the Washington Monument's 80,000 tons of stone is impressive. It is 55 feet, ½ inches (16.8 m) wide at the base, and rises up to a 34 foot, 5 inch wide (10.5 m) capstone. There are nearly 900 steps to the top of the monument, which are no longer open to the general public. Inside the memorial, and closed to the public, are 193 memorial stones lining the walls, all donated by different patriotic groups, cities and states. At the request of the memorial society, they were sent from far and wide, beginning in 1848. They simply had to be quarried or made from native stone or materials, be durable and 4 feet (1.2 m) by 2 feet (61 cm) high, and have a thickness of 18 inches (45.7 cm).

Today, the National Park Service welcomes over half a million visitors to the Washington Monument every year. Admission is free, but a ticket is required. Tickets are distributed on a first come, first served basis, beginning at 8:30 am. The monument is open every day from 9am to 5pm, except for the Fourth of July and Christmas Day.

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