In 1783 the Continental Congress approved an equestrian statue of George Washington, and in 1791 architect Pierre L'Enfant included a site for the statue near the present location of the monument in his plans for the federal city. Washington, however, objected to the idea. After Washington's death in 1799, plans for a memorial were discussed but none was adopted.
In 1832 the private Washington National Monument Society was formed. Its activity brought gifts of money as well as blocks of stone from each state, some foreign governments, and private individuals. These
tribute blocks carry inscriptions on the inside walls of the monument. Architect Robert Mills's elaborate Greek temple design was accepted for the monument, and on July 4, 1848, the cornerstone was laid.
Work on the project was interrupted by political quarreling in the 1850s; by the Civil War, funds became scarce. It was not until 1876 that Congress took over the project and appropriated money for the monument. The base, entirely different from Mills's design, was completed in 1880; the aluminum top was positioned in 1884; and the monument was opened to the public in 1888. The top may be reached by elevator; public access by the stairs is no longer permitted. From 1997 to 2019 the monument was repeatedly closed several years at a time for renovations, security improvements, and repairs.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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