Washington Monument
A History
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Chapter VI:


The dedication of the completed Washington Monument took place on February 22, 1885. It marked the end of construction on the memorial, aside from final details, and the last official act of President Chester Alan Arthur, who caught a cold during the ceremonies.

Washington's birthday that year was clear and cold, and the sharp wind blowing down the Potomac chilled the assembled crowd. The ground at the base of the majestic shaft was encrusted with snow. But it was a great day for the men who spent years completing the monument, as the obelisk to the Father of his Country stood noble, proud, majestic and serene. It represented the ideals of America. It was at that time the tallest monument of masonry in the world.

At the base of the monument, regular troops and citizen soldiers were massed in close formation. There were Freemasons and in the special pavilion erected nearby were invited guests consisting of executive, legislative, and judicial officers. There were officers of the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, and groups of volunteer units. There were members of the diplomatic corps representing the entire world; there were clergymen, jurists, scientists, venerable citizens, and members of the Washington National Monument Society, the proudest of all. All gathered in homage to George Washington, the man and his ideals.

Short addresses were delivered by Senator John Sherman of Ohio, who had introduced the Concurrent Resolution in the Congress that had resulted in completion of the monument; by William W. Corcoran, Secretary of the Washington National Monument Society; and by Col. Thomas Lincoln Casey, chief engineer and guiding spirit behind its completion. A few well-chosen remarks were made by President Arthur, who concluded by declaring the monument dedicated from that time forth "to the immortal name and memory of George Washington."

Following the exercises at the monument, curtailed undoubtedly by the frigid weather, the official procession headed by Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. The President's special escort was the Ancient and Honorable Artillery of Massachusetts, chartered in 1638, which had come to the Capital to participate in the events of the day.

In the chamber of the House, two addresses were delivered: one by Speaker Robert C. Winthrop; the second by the Hon. John W. Daniel of Virginia, Washington's native state. A special reception was given that evening at the White House for the courtesies extended by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company to President Arthur, one of its honorary members. [1]


Following dedication of the monument numerous details of its construction that could not be finished earlier were rushed to completion. Among these were: installation of the iron stairway, steel treads and platforms; a passenger elevator; windows of the Pyramidion; stone flagging at the base; an electric light plant for interior lighting; a boiler house and pipe tunnels to the monument; equipment for protection from lightning; insertion of memorial blocks in the interior walls; removal of all useless construction equipment from the grounds; construction of a lodge; deposition of earth filling about the base of the shaft and filling the monument grounds; and finally, preparation of estimates for the operation of the monument. All work was completed by 1888 at which time the Joint Commission for Completion of the Monument was dissolved at its own request by Act of Congress approved October 2, 1888, and the Secretary of War was charged with the custody, care, and protection of the monument thereafter.

Colonel Casey submitted his last report to the Joint Commission on December 1, 1887, and had asked to be relieved at his own request. By direction of the President, as contained in Special Orders No. 76, Headquarters, U. S. Army, Adjutant-General's Office, dated April 3, 1888, Lt. Col. John M. Wilson, C.E., reported to the Joint Commission as engineer in charge of the construction of the monument. [2] He continued where Colonel Casey had left off.

During the construction of the monument, wooden stair treads had been laid down to the top. With the completion of the monument, these were replaced with steel treads to complete the iron stairway and steel platforms.

Drawings were prepared for the completion of this work and on May 6, 1885, a contract was made with the Snead and Company Iron Works of Louisville, Ky. The work was completed on April 30, 1886, and included the substitution of iron treads, platform coverings, handrails, and screens for al the temporary wooden parts of the iron staircase. All ungalvanized parts of the frame were painted.

Visitors could now have safe access by stairs to the top of the monument, and by September 1886 some 10,000 persons had walked to its 500-foot level. [3]

The completion of this ironwork required the removal of the three plummet wires which furnished a daily record of the movement of the shaft. They had been suspended from points 150, 176, and 500 feet above the floor. A single plummet was substituted and suspended from the level of the center of gravity of the shaft. Proper instruments for reading any motion in the shaft were procured and installed on the floor.

To carry passengers to the top of the monument, the wooden car used for carrying stone was replaced by a passenger car installed under contract with Otis & Brothers of New York City, dated July 26, 1886. The elevator machinery was altered and adjusted and after a successful test, the contract was completed on December 2 of the same year. [4]

The windows of the pyramidion had served as openings through which the staging for its construction had been supported. They also gave access to the exterior walls of the monument.

These windows were carefully fitted with marble shutters set in bronze frames. The eight frames were hung upon revolving craner and so contrived that they could be easily maneuvered, thus carrying the shutters into position so that their faces could always be protected from disfigurement and accident. When the windows of the pyramidion are closed by these shutters, it is vastly improved in appearance. The interior of the shaft is also protected from storm waters which would otherwise flow into it from the roof and flood the upper platforms.

On January 27, 1885, a contract was made with the U. S. Electric Lighting Co., of Washington, for the installation of an electric lighting plant in the monument. The dynamo and cables of the plant were designed for 125 incandescent lamps, which it was believed would be the maximum required to light the interior. Two lights to each platform were installed from the base to the 200-foot level, and one lamp to each platform thereafter from to the 480-foot level. [5]

In 1886 the floor of the monument was paved with blue-stone flagging arranged in pleasing patterns and rubbed smooth. The drum-pit and trench for the main shaft from the engine were covered with wrought and cast-iron plates respectively. [6]

A permanent boiler house was erected about 750 feet southwest of the monument under contract with William Bradley of Washington, dated October 22, 1885, including the boilers. It was designed to accommodate two boilers and included a 90-ton capacity coal vault. It was built of refuse marble and granite which had accumulated during construction of the obelisk. The boilers furnished live and exhaust steam to and from the monument through pipes located in a brick culvert beneath the glacis surrounding the obelisk. The contract was completed June 30, 1886. Owing to the filling of the outlets opposite the drains from the boiler house, a pipe sewer was constructed about 250 feet in length which led to one of the ponds in charge of the Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries. These ponds in the northwest section of the monument grounds were later filled in to stabilize the foundations of the memorial. [7]

A pipe tunnel, enlarging of the engine house, and laying the floor at the foot of the interior of the monument was done under contract dated March 15, 1886, with Halliday & Wilson of Washington, D. C. The pipe-tunnel was constructed beneath the surface of the ground and connected the boiler and engine houses by an arched passageway that was three feet in width and four feet, three inches in height. It was designed to carry on its floor the steam pipes to, and the exhaust pipes from, the engine at the foot of the monument. The tunnel was constructed of brick and completed June 21.

The engine house was enlarged to the south over a space of about six by 24 feet to accommodate the dynamo and its engine that was used for lighting the well of the shaft. The entire structure was covered with a roof that did not obstruct the view of any portion of the shaft, nor project above the upper surface of the terrace surrounding the base of the monument. The entire structure was built of iron and masonry, the roof being covered with copper. By August 11 the work was completed. [8]


At various times since the first memorial stone had been presented to the Society for insertion in the interior walls of the monument, 189 had been received from foreign countries, States, Territories, cities and towns of the Union, societies, and individuals. Ninety-two had been built into the walls of the portion of the shaft completed by the Washington National Monument Society.

When the upper six feet of the shaft had been removed because of damage, eight of these stones were removed and placed in the lapidarium with others. When the balance of the shaft was constructed under Colonel Casey's direction, it was decided not to build in any more of the memorial blocks until the obelisk was completed.

On June 30, 1885, a contract was entered into with Dennis O'Leary and during that year, he inserted 53 memorial blocks in the walls from platform 160 to platform 230. The work consisted in reducing the thickness of the blocks to thin slabs, cutting depressions in the faces of the wall, and securely, wedging the slabs into them. Of the stones inserted during 1885, nine were from foreign countries, namely, Brazil, Bremen, China, Greece, Japan, Sian, Switzerland, and the Isles of Paros and Naxos; 13 were from States and Territories, namely, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, Montana, Utah and Wyoming; ten from cities and towns; nine from Masonic Societies; six from Odd-Fellow Societies; four from the Sons of Temperance, and two miscellaneous. A space was prepared for the later insertion of a block from New York State at the 160-foot level.

Fifty-one memorial blocks remained in the lapidarium and in 1886 stones were received from New York and Oregon. Most of the blocks remaining represented local societies, organizations and individuals and insertion in the walls was reserved to the future. [9]

Two years later, in 1887, 11 memorial stones were inserted in the walls by Burns & Company of Washington. During the 1889 fiscal year, 31 memorial stones were inserted in niches in the walls prepared for them from the 260- to the 280-foot level. During the next 38 years from 1889 to February 1927, when the last memorial stone, from New Mexico, was inserted in inner walls at the 330-foot level, eight stones had been inserted in the walls between the 280- and 330 foot levels of the monument. [10] The total number of memorial stones inserted in the walls of the Washington Monument is 190. These stones were to became the target of souvenir hunters from the very first day that visitation to the monument was permitted, and vandalism was to become one of the most annoying problems in the administration of the monument. While guards occasionally caught a culprit red-handed in his act of vandalism, small fines and the impossibility of patrolling all platforms of the obelisk were to make it an impossible task. As one examines these memorial stones, he finds that some of their most beautiful decorations have been destroyed.


1. Alabama40-foot18. Kentucky110-foot
2. AlaskaNo Stone19. Louisiana40-ft
3. Arizona320-ft20. Maine30-ft
4. Arkansas30-ft21. Maryland80-ft
5. California120-ft22. Massachusetts70-ft
6. Colorado290-ft23. Michigan210-ft
7. Connecticut70-ft24. Minnesota220-ft
8. Delaware30-ft25. Mississippi90-ft
9. District of Columbia80-ft26. Missouri90-ft
10. Florida60-ft27. Montana220-ft
11. Georgia50-ft28. Nebraska220-ft
12. Hawaii350-ft29. Nevada220-ft
13. Idaho400-ft30. New Hampshire60-ft
14. Illinois50-ft31. New Jersey70-ft
15. Indiana50-ft32. New Mexico330-ft
16. Iowa110-ft33. New York160-ft
17. Kansas210-ft34. North Carolina100-ft

35. North Dakota350-foot44. Texas290-feet
36. Ohio90-ft45. Utah220-ft
37. Oklahoma290-ft45a. Deseret220-ft
38. Oregon220-ft46. Vermont170-ft
39. Pennsylvania140-ft47. Virginia80-ft
40. Rhode Island100-ft48. Washington310-ft
41. South Carolina60-ft49. West Virginia200-ft
42. South Dakota300-ft50. Wisconsin100-ft
43. Tennessee230-ft51. Wyoming220-ft

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Brazil190-foot landing
Bremen, Germany190-ft
Citizens of U.S.A., residing in Foo Chow Foo, China250-ft
Egypt, Alexandrian Library270-ft
Grecian Archipelago, Islands of Paros and Naxos190-ft
Switzerland, Confederation of190-ft


As construction of the final details of the monument was being completed during 1885, modifications were made to the original doors in the base of the structure, for it had been decided to have but one entrance door to control access to the monument, the door facing the east symbolically to greet the rising sun.

According to Mills' original design, two large Egyptian doorways, 15 feet in height by six feet in width, had been built into the obelisk during the first phase of its construction. Each door was surmounted by a heavy pediment and an entablature upon which was carved a winged bull and an asp. They were entirely in keeping with the original design of a massive temple to surround the lower part of the shaft. However, after the decision had been made to retain only the obelisk on Consul Marsh's recommendation, the doors were no longer appropriate.

The projecting jambs, entablature, and pediment were dressed down to the planes of the faces of the shaft, and the west door was walled up with large grained marble such as was used in facing the lower part of the walls. The east door, the one now existing as the sole entrance to the monument, was reduced in height from 15 to eight feet and closed by two marble slabs or doors that open upon heavy bronze hinges, the weight of each leaf being over a half-ton and supported upon a steel friction roller. [12] When the monument was opened to visitors, a storm door was placed around the entrance during fiscal 1889 to protect the interior from inclement weather. [13]


One of the most awesome sights on the Washington skyline is when lightning starts crackling about the tip of the monument and heaven and earth seem united through brilliant flashes. However, there is little if any danger to the memorial or the people in it, even though some small incidents have taken place, for it has a highly intricate system of protection from that source.

Work began on installing lightning conductors for the Washington Monument in January 1880 and the task was completed in January 1885. These conductors utilize the four hollow wrought-iron Phoenix columns standing in the well of the shaft, which also support the elevator machinery and guide the car. These columns are six inches in exterior diameter, 5/8 of an inch in thickness, and are made up of 20—foot sections. They are fastened together with long inside couplings, which fit tightly into the columns and are fastened to them by 16 screw bolts. The bottoms of these four columns rest upon and are bolted to cast-iron shoes which in turn stand upon the floor of the large drum-pit beneath the floor of the monument. The shoes are connected to three-quarter inch soft copper rods which terminate in the bottom of the well in the center of the foundation. This well is 32 feet, 10 inches in depth below the bottom of the drum—pit, and 15 feet, 8 inches below the bottom of the masonry foundation. The water stands in it permanently to a height of two feet, eight inches above its bottom. After the copper rods were inserted, the well was filled with clean sharp sand up to the level of the bottom of the old rubble—stone foundation of the monument. The four columns, projecting above the top of the shaft, were continually lengthened as the building of the shaft progressed. During the five summers that the masonry was being completed, they acted as the lightning conductors of the edifice. No disruptive discharges of electricity were experienced during these five years.

When the walls were completed in December 1884, and the upper extremities of the columns were covered by the marble pyramidion, four copper rods, three quarters of an inch in diameter, were run to the top stone, one from each column. They were there united in a 1-1/2—inch copper rod which passed vertically through the stone and was screwed into the solid metal terminal of aluminum, i. e., the aluminum capstone. This metal was selected for the terminal because of its whiteness and the probability that its polished surfaces would not tarnish upon exposure to air. It was a square pyramid in shape, similar to the pyramidion of the obelisk, and fitting upon the top stone completed the apex. This terminal weighed 100 ounces, and was 8.9 inches in height and 5.6 inches in width at the base. The angle at the vertex between the two opposite sides was about 34° 48'.

When tested, the conductors gave an electrical resistance of 1/10 of an ohm from the tip of the terminal to the copper rods at the base, and 2 and 2/10 ohms for the ground connections, making a total resistance of 2 and 3/10 ohms for the conductor. The system was completed and connected on January 20, 1885. Proof of its resistance was shortly forthcoming.

On April 5, 1885, during the passage of a heavy thunder cloud over the monument, at least five immense sparks or bolts of electrical light were seen within a period of 20 minutes to flash between the terminal and the cloud, without audible sound to the observers. A careful examination of the conductors and shaft after this phenomenon failed to reveal any effects from these discharges.

On June 8, however, during a thunder storm, a disruptive discharge was seen to pass between the summit of the pyramidion and the cloud. Upon examining the structure, a crack was discovered in the stone on the north face of the pyramidion just under the top stone, extending through the block in a line nearly parallel to the northeast corner, and about 8-1/2 inches from it. The fragment was pressed outwards about 3/4 of an inch at its bottom, chipping a small piece of the lower corner of the top stone into which it was locked, and was easily forced back into place and bolted to the solid stone form which it had been ejected.

Because of the circumstances of this damage and to devise if possible some plan by which the obelisk could be more effectively protected from lightning. Professors R. A. Rowland of Johns Hopkins University, Simon Newcomb of the U. S. Navy, and T. C. Mendenhall of the Signal Service, U. S. Army, were invited to inspect the conductors and to recommend any modifications that in their judgment would properly meet the desired end.

After a careful examination of the system then used, they recommended that the interior conductors of the monument should be connected to a system of rods and a greater number of points to be located on the exterior of the pyramidion. As devised by the group, the additions consisted of four one-half inch copper rods that were fastened to the aluminum terminal. These were led down the corners to the base of the pyramidion. They then passed through the masonry and extended inward where they were joined to the iron columns described above. As these exterior rods were each over 60 feet long, they were also connected at two intermediate points of their lengths with the iron columns by means of copper rods one-half and three-quarters of an inch in diameter respectively, furnishing 16 rods in all connecting the exterior system of conductors with the interior conducting columns. At the point where the exterior rods upon the corners cross the 11 highest horizontal joints of the masonry of the pyramidion, they are connected to each other at all points by other copper rods sunk into these joints. All exterior rods, couplings, and fittings are gold plated. They are studded every five feet with three-inch copper points all of which are gold plated and tipped with aluminum. There are 200 of these points in all. The work was carried out by Ledig & Herrlein of Philadelphia at a cost of $1,217. [14] The four main points lasted to 1934, when during the first cleaning of the Washington Monument they were removed and replaced. It was found that the tips were half-burnt and destroyed by the many flashes of lightning which had struck the memorial without further incident. An interesting sidelight was recounted by Hordyczak, the famous photographer of the Washington scene during the 1930s, who stated that when the workmen could not loosen the gold-tipped points, he did so with his teeth and he now has a souvenir tip at home. [15]


As the monument neared completion, two suggestions were advanced for treating the terrace at the foot of the shaft. One method proposed the erection of a retaining wall, to be built of the rarest and most beautiful marbles obtainable, around the terrace. The wall was to be surmounted with a marble balustrade and ornamented with bronzes and mosaics. At the center of each face was to be a set of broad, double stairs, extending from the general level of the site to an esplanade. This was to be paved in marble tiles of approved patterns. All details of the work were to be designed by first-class artists and architects. Colonel Casey estimated that completion of the terrace by this method would cost $528,000. [16]

The second method was simpler and cheaper--this was to fill earth about the terrace, and to extend this filling to the surrounding areas of the monument so that the slopes would blend in gradually and give the entire area a natural appearance. Trees and shrubs were then to be planted and paths laid out. A pavement was then to be laid at the base of the monument and extend out far enough to prevent storm waters from washing out the filling. A keeper's lodge was to be built nearby with accommodations for assembling visitors to the monument and for offices to preserve the archives of the Society. It was estimated that it would require 275,000 cubic yards of fill and would cost but $82,500 compared to the first method whose cost is noted above. [17]

The project for the earth filling was approved by the Joint Commission on December 23, 1886. On July 28, 1887, Congress approved the project and passed an act to facilitate the moving of large quantities of earth through the city. Meanwhile, bids had been asked for and a contract was made with Thomas H. Lyons, of Baltimore, on March 19, 1887, to deposit about 250,000 cubic yards of earth at 39 cents per cubic yard about the base of the monument and in Babcock Lake just north of it. The work was to be completed by or before January 1, 1889. The contractor began work in April 1887 and by the end of the year had deposited about 85,000 cubic yards in the localities designated. Colonel Casey had meantime made a very minute and accurate estimate of the cubical contents of the filling, certifying that it would require about 267,412 cubic yards of fill to complete the project. [18] The work of filling the ground about the base of the Monument was completed in December 1888. [19]


As final details of the construction of the Washington Monument were being completed and preparations made for the manner in which visitors were to be handled at the base prior to ascending to the top, proposals were invited for the construction of a marble lodge house to be situated near the monument. The expense of its construction was to be borne by the Washington National Monument Society. Following advertising for bids, which began on February 18, 1888, the contract was awarded to Lane and Malnati of Washington, D. C., for the sum of $10,720. The location of the lodge was later changed by direction of the Monument Commission to a site about 480 feet east of the monument. The contractor was allowed an additional $930 for expenses involved in changing the site.

Construction work began in April 1888 and due to the change of site was halted until June. The character of the materials and construction was reported to be satisfactory, although progress was slow. In January 1889, the lodge was completed, approved as satisfactory and transferred to the jurisdiction of the United States by the Society. [20] Architects of the lodge were Poindexter & Co., of the District.

Initially, visitors to the monument assembled in the lodge house and when a sufficient number had congregated they were escorted by a guide to the monument. Crowds became so enormous, however, that the assembly point was changed to the base of the monument and has continued there ever since.


As the monument neared completion and visitors came in larger numbers demanding access to it, the Joint Commission realized that plans had to be made for its continued operation as one of the principal goals of sightseers to the Capital. In response to the Committee's request, Colonel Casey submitted to it on January 20, 1887, the first estimate of the probable cost of running the elevator at the monument. Casey suggested that the following number of personnel would be required for the yearly overall operation of the memorial:

1 custodian, $100 p/mth$1,200
1 steam engineer, $80 p/mth960
1 ass 't steam engineer, $60 p/mth720
1 fireman, $50 p/mth600
1 assistant fireman, $45 p/mth540
1 car conductor (elevator operator], $75 p/mth900
1 attendant at base, $45 p/mth540
1 attendant at top, $45 p/mth540
3 night and day watchmen, $60 ea. p/mth2,160
350 tons of coal, $5 p/ton1,750
Oil, waste, packing and repairs to engine and boiler500


Casey rounded off the figure to $10,500, and explained the reason for suggesting assistants to the steam engineer and fireman, saying, "in an operation involving the lives of so many persons, it is not well to leave these men alone in their rooms." [21]

Administration of the monument was to be under Lt. Col. John M. Wilson, C.E., who had assumed Casey's post as engineer officer in charge of public buildings and grounds. [22]

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Last Updated: 18-Nov-2003