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A biography of the Washington Monument

The Washington Monument


The Washington Monument

by Sean Hurley 

I want to dedicate my book to my mom and dad, and simplebooklet for giving me the sofware to do my E-Book


    I feel like after researching this project I have learned so much more about the Washington Monument. I learned that it’s now worthless capstone was worth much more in 1884 and cost $5,000. I learned that the only metal supports in the structure are for the elevator shaft. Also, that even though it was finished in 1884, it was only fully opened in 1888.

    The thing that I found most interesting about researching this project is that there are multiple monuments to George Washington.  One of the more interesting ones was named “Enthroned Washington”. It was a statue of George Washington bare chested, wearing a toga and sandals. Another amazing monument is the George Washington Masonic National Memorial which is located in Alexandria, Virginia.

    My overall opinion of the Washington Monument is that is a great memorial to one of our founding fathers. Like other people, I feel like George Washington was one of the most influential and important founding fathers. This is because he led the colonists through the Revolutionary War even though they were clearly outnumbered. I feel that the Washington Monument is an amazing structure.





   John Marshall had always admired George Washington (and even wrote a five volume biography on him). Because of this, John Marshall was one of the unhappy people about there being no monument to George Washington. Unlike other people, his dad was close friends with George Washington as a land surveyor,(a person that charts out land), making him idolize him. He then decided to form the Washington National Monument Society in 1833 to build him a monument.

      He formed the society with James Madison and other George Washington admirers including Daniel Brent, James Kearney, Joseph Gales. Being the leader of the group, he started a fundraiser to collect donations and designs for the monument in 1836. He was able to raise $87,000 from mostly $1 donations,although it was not enough. After a decade of considering designs and ideas for the monument, he settled on a design by architect Robert Mills. The design was of a 600 foot tall obelisk surrounded by a  colonnade of thirty 100 foot columns. On the inside, it would feature 30 prominent Revolutionary war heroes and George Washington riding in a war chariot.

      The budget finally ran out in 1858, grinding construction to a halt. The 156 foot building was only to be continued after the civil war. This ended the public phase of construction led by the Washington National Monument Society led by John Marshall. The event that caused the end to the public phase was the controversial Know Nothing Party taking over the society from illegal elections and quickly losing donations. Another reason funds ran out is that donors argued over how the monument should represent George Washington and the nation.


 John Marshall

    One of his most well known buildings he worked on is the White House. While working on it with James Hoban he met the president, Thomas Jefferson. He was also known for designing and working on many other buildings. From 1836-1851, he was the official architect of public buildings in Washington D.C. One of his well known designs is for the Washington Monument. His blueprint was of a 600 foot tall obelisk surrounded by a colonnade of thirty 100 foot tall columns.

      His original design got reduced to 555 feet to match with traditional egyptian proportions of the height being 10 times the width of the base (55.5 feet). He was one of the first and only American born architects of his time. He helped to make the (not well known) Greek Revival style popular. His intent to design the monument in the shape of an Egyptian obelisk was to invoke the timelessness of ancient civilizations.

      Being a Neoclassical architect, Robert Mills used classical architectural forms with originality. Colleges, hospitals, prisons, and canals were some of the major structures he designed. His most well known buildings include the Old Patent Office and the US Treasury.  Another one of his George Washington monuments was built in Baltimore, Maryland built from 1815-1829. The monument was a 178 foot tall stone column and gives one of the best views of Baltimore.


 Robert Mills

    His job was chief of engineers for the Army Corps of Engineers. He oversaw the completion of the Washington Monument during the public period of construction from 1876 to 1884. The reason he redesigned the monument was because of the problems in the original design.  His changes were to remove the ornate decorations. The problems with the original design were mostly due to cost and also due to the already inadequate foundation. Although, this was against the congress’s plan, Casey was still able to finish the monument with his modifications.

    The new schematics for the monument were now 555 feet tall and it was not surrounded by columns or statues. The first thing to do was to strengthen the foundation, which took four years to complete. To continue the building, he used different marble from Baltimore than before because it was higher quality. The stone used before was from Massachusetts and was used by the Know Nothing Party to construct the monument. The original stone was from Baltimore, being used during the private stage of construction.

    When it was completed in 1884, it was the tallest building in the world until it was surpassed by the Eiffel Tower in Paris,France in 1889. It is still the tallest fully stone true obelisk to date. One hundred and ninety-three commemorative stones from many different people, cities, states, and countries were used in the construction of the monument.


Thomas Casey

    To pay tribute to the centennial of George Washington’s birth in 1832, the congress commissioned Greenough to create the first monument to Washington. The statue was to be displayed in the Washington, D.C. rotunda. The phase of construction was 1832 to 1841, when it was finished. Horatio Greenough named his statue Enthroned Washington. When it was finally built, it attracted much controversy and criticism from many people.

      The sculpture was inspired by the classical Greek statue of Zeus. The statue was of George Washington bare chested and wearing sandals. Once, it was described as the most reviled public statue to be completed in the United States. Because of this, it was moved many times.

      It was originally supposed to be located in the capitol rotunda. Instead it was moved outside a year later in 1842. In 1908, it was transferred to the Smithsonian Collection. Finally the statue was transferred to the American Art Museum in 1964 where it now resides. No matter where it is, it still attracts much controversy from many people to this date.





Horatio Greenough



    Although he was born in Germany, he moved to the United States to become a citizen. He learned the ability to process aluminum in Germany.  After he came to America, he built the first aluminum foundry in the United States at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Being asked by Thomas Casey to build an apex for the Washington Monument, he decided to use pure aluminum instead of an alloy that was 90% copper and 10% aluminum.

    The aluminum capstone was finished on November 12, 1884. Aluminum was so rare and hard to process at the time that it was displayed at Tiffany’s in New York before they installed it. Aluminum was hard to process because it is never found in a pure state in nature. This was the first documented architectural use of aluminum.

    The reason why they chose aluminum was to simply be used as a lightning rod. This was not the first choice of metals. It was an alternative to other materials.  Copper, brass plated with platinum, and bronze were the other choices. Aluminum was chosen because of Casey’s knowledge of Frishmuth’s work with aluminum.


 William Frishmuth

    Before anything else, George Washington was a farmer.  Afterwards, he became a surveyor until the 1750’s when he fought with the British Army against France. After his time in the military, he retired and stayed a farmer until he was appointed as the Major General and Commander in Chief of the Revolutionary War.

    He was the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. He was the commander-in-chief of the continental army during the Revolutionary War. His first job when he was 17 was a surveyor. He was also in charge of the meeting where the constitution was drafted.

    Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River was on the night of December 25, 1776. This was the first surprise attack against the Hessian forces that the British hired. His troops might have stayed in Ardsley during the battle of White Plains. He retired peacefully after his two four year terms and helped transition the government to John Adams.


George Washington 


    The Washington National Monument Society was founded in 1833 with the purpose of creating a monument to George Washington.  They were frustrated of there being no proper memorial.  They got their money mostly from public donations. After they ran out of their budget, they returned the land to Congress. This ended the public phase of construction

    Construction took place in two main phases from 1848 through 1856 and 1876 through 1884. The reason it stopped in 1856 was due to a lack of funds. This was caused by the controversial Know Nothing Party taking over the society. The society was founded by John Marshall, James Madison, Daniel Brent, James Kearney, Joseph Gales, and several others.

    They were able to raise $28,000 by 1836. From 1836 through 1840, they held a design competition for artists and architects alike. After searching for nearly two decades they settled on a design by Robert Mills in 1854. It was of a 600 foot obelisk surrounded by a colonnade of 30 100 foot columns, and 30 statues of prominent revolutionary war heros.


Washington National Monument Society 

     They were founded by the congress in 1775. Their purpose was to provide engineering support for national security, help the economy, and reduce danger from disasters. They were the main team on completing the construction of the monument. They did all of the building of the monument during the public stage of construction from 1876 through 1884. Their first job was to strengthen the inadequate foundation, which took nearly four years. Before that, they originally worked on fortifications and then canals, rivers, and roads.

    With Thomas Casey, they asked William Frishmuth to make the capstone for the monument. On June 14, 1878, the congress authorized $36,000 to strengthen the foundation. The two people who were in charge and oversaw the project were Thomas Casey and George W. Davis. To finish the rest of the building, they moved up an iron frame twenty feet at a time, and used a boom and tackle system also known as a pulley system.  

    In 2011, an earthquake shook the foundation and chipped off pieces from the supports of the monument. The Army Corps of Engineers were in charge of repairing the building and making it safe for public use. The monument has cost 15 million dollars, paid half by Congress, and half by David M. Rubenstein. On  May 12, 2014, the Washington monument finally opened for public use.


Army Corps of Engineers 

Monument from 1848 to 1884 

    Although he was born in Paris, France, he fought in the Revolutionary War for the colonies. He served under Washington at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. He became known for his drawings of soldiers, including Washington. He was originally an architect in New York before he was appointed to design buildings in Washington, D.C.

    He was the captain of engineers for General George Washington. He led the design of Washington, DC. His centerpiece was a public walk, a two mile strip of grass and trees from the capitol hill to the Potomac River. Although Thomas Jefferson had a simple sketch for the small federal town, Pierre had designed a full scale city.
    Many people thought a metropolis area being built on the rural plains was a bad idea, but he had George Washington as a supporter. Pierre had placed the capitol building on a hill overlooking the Potomac River where a palace would normally sit in an European country. Capitol Hill became the center of the city from a diagonal grid street layout. These wide boulevards provided easy access throughout town and offered views of important buildings and the evenly dispersed public squares.


Pierre L’Enfant 

-How much does the Washington monument weigh: The aboveground part of the monument weighs 80,000 tons and the foundation weighs 20,000 tons.

-Unlike steel buildings which sway in the wind, the Washington Monument doesn’t sway in the wind because it’s a stone building

-The building is completing stone except for the elevator shaft and the elevator

- The amount of stones used in the Washington Monument are 36,000

-Width at top of shaft: 34 feet 5 1/2 inches

-Thickness of walls at base of shaft: 15 feet

-Thickness of walls at top of shaft: 18 inches

-Depth of foundation: 36 feet 10 inches

-Capstone weight: 3,300 lbs (1.65 tons)

-Weight of aluminum tip on capstone: 100 oz (2.8 kg)






1783- An equestrian statue of George Washington was proposed by congress.

1791 - Pierre L’Enfant chooses site and location of the monument.

1832 - Horatio Greenough is commissioned by congress to make a statue of George Washington.

1833 - The Washington National Monument Society was formed.

1836 - Fundraiser for donations and designs is started by the society.

1840 - George Washington statue by Horatio Greenough is finished.

1848 - The cornerstone is laid.

1853 - The controversial Know Nothing Party gains control of the Washington National Monument Society.

1854 - The society goes bankrupt.

1876 - Congress assumes funding and building of the Washington Monument.

1884 - The capstone is laid, finishing the monument.

1885 - The Washington Monument is dedicated.

1886 - The monument is open to the public.

1887 - The monument is closed until it can be better protected from vandals.

1888 - The monument reopens with a public elevator


Timeline of Washington Monument

    The conception, changes, stages of construction, and overall history of the Washington Monument is an amazing tale. This book includes 9 people/groups who influenced the idea or construction of the Washington Monument in many important ways. From changing the design to the placement of the capstone, this story will tell everything you need to know about this magnificent monument and more.

About The Author 

Sean Hurley is eleven years old, lives in Westchester County, but grew up  in Tennessee and enjoys weekends