Washington Monument
A History
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There is in Washington a construction designed by engineers. The wind piles up masses of sculptural clouds behind it. The rising sun paints it silver and the setting sun paints it gold, and it is, I venture to think, the most beautiful single object in the world today.

JAMES MONROE HEWLETT, American architect and mural painter, and Director of the American Academy in Rome, in an address before the American Institute of Architects, Washington, 1926.

This study of the Washington Monument has been completed in response to Resource Study Proposal H—6 of Central National Capital Parks. It is intended to provide a legal, administrative, physical, and use history of the monument to assist in its management and interpretation. The study will also assist the Superintendent, Central National Capital Parks, to prepare an interpretive prospectus for the development of the planned visitor center at the Washington Monument. Used together with such other studies as the History of the Mall and the President's Park South, which I have already completed, this study provides as much information as is possible at the present time within the budgetary and time limitations set for it. Many technical details have been included for the use of architects and engineers.

The major portion of the narrative is based on the records of the Washington National Monument Society (1848—54) and the annual reports of the Joint Commission for the Completion of the Washington Monument (1876—88); the annual reports of the Chief of Engineers, War Department, Office of the Engineer Officer in Charge of Public Buildings and Grounds (1867—1925); annual reports of the Commissioner of Public Buildings and Parks (1925—32); and material from the correspondence files of the Mail and Records Branch, National Capital Parks (1933—70). Photographs and drawings are from the Information Branch and the Map Files and Land Records Division, National Capital Parks; the National Archives and the Library of Congress.

My colleagues Frank Sarles and Edwin Bearss read parts of the manuscript and offered many useful suggestions. Miss Nancy Reed did a fine typing job. Personal surveys and on the site interviews provided much information essential to the coordination of the study.

This study of the Washington Monument ends my career of over thirty years with the Federal Government, beginning when I was a youth with the House of Representatives (1938) and ending with the National Park Service (1971). Throughout it, I consider it to have been a great privilege to have seen and observed in action the government of the land I love and to have written about my first love, the Nation's Capital. I trust that my studies will be a source of inspiration for the generations to come.

Washington, D. C.

George J. Olszewski, Ph. D.
Staff Historian

May 1971

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Last Updated: 18-Nov-2003