5 Things You Didn't Know About The Washington Monument

On December 6, 1884, in Washington, D.C., workers place a nine-inch aluminum pyramid atop a tower of white marble, completing the construction the Washington Monument. Here are 5 things you didn't know about this structure built as a tribute to George Washington...


The Monument Was Planned Before George Washington Was Elected The Continental Congress approved the erection of a statue to honor Washington in 1783 in the nation’s capital, which had not yet been built. When Washington was elected as president, he rejected the memorial plans because of a shortage of government funds. The plan did not go ahead until 1833 when the Washington National Monument Society, headed by the Chief Justice, John Marshall, was formed to raise funds privately.

The Original Plan for the Monument Was Completely Different Robert Mills won a design contest for the monument, which was to include a pantheon that featured statues of heroes of the Revolutionary War, signers of the Declaration of Independence, and stone columns. At the main entrance there was supposed to be a statue depicting Washington in a chariot drawn by horses, and in the center there would be a 600-foot-tall Egyptian obelisk. Various problems caused the project to be put on hold until after the Civil War. Funding was authorized by President U.S. Grant, but tastes for such an ambitious monument had changed and only the obelisk was built.


A Navy Vet Threatened to Blow It Up Norman Mayer, a veteran of the Navy, threatened to set off 1,000 pounds of dynamite and blow up the Washington Monument after he drove his vehicle up to its base on December 8, 1982. Tourists found themselves trapped inside, buildings had to be evacuated, and streets were closed. Following a standoff of 10 hours, Mayer tried to leave but was shot dead by police. It was soon discovered that the van contained no explosives.

The Washington Monument Was Damaged by an Earthquake in 2011 A 5.8 magnitude earthquake close to Mineral, Virginia, damaged the Washington Monument, causing some mortar to come loose and creating cracks in the obelisk. Fortunately, no one inside the building was injured, however. It was closed for 2 1/2 years to be repaired, which cost around $15 million. While the extensive repair work took place, the obelisk was shrouded in a blue mesh, which covered the enormous scaffolding system that was needed to do the repairs.

The Monument Was Briefly the World's Tallest Man-made Structure It was a brief but glorious reign of five years when the 555-foot height of the monument made it the world's tallest man-made structure. For four of those years—1884-1888—the monument was closed to the public; it was only between 1888 and 1889 that tourists could visit Washington D.C. and say they'd been to the tallest building in the world. (The Eiffel Tower took over that title in 1889.)