Today in History: The Washington Monument opens to the public in 1888

October 9th, 2013

On October 9, 1888, the Washington Monument officially opened to the public. The beloved monument to America’s first president attracts more than half a million visitors each year, and was briefly the world’s tallest structure.

In the immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress supported the creation of equestrian statues honoring George Washington. In 1832, the 100th anniversary of Washington’s birth, the Washington National Monument Society was formed, and quickly raised thousands of dollars for the creation of a monument. Architect Robert Mills won the competition to design the monument.

Mills’ vision included a tall obelisk similar to the modern monument, though his had a nearly flat top rather than the pointed structure seen today, and included a large colonnade surrounding the monument at its base. The elaborate design was controversial due to its high cost, and the members of the monument society decided to focus on constructing the obelisk before agreeing to fund the colonnade.

Construction was halted in 1854, with just one third of the monument complete, when donations ran out and Congress rescinded a promised $200,000 contribution. Public patriotism after the Civil War encouraged Congress to contribute additional funds to complete the monument, though there was increased pressure to modify the design. Mills’ colonnade design was abandoned in favor of a simple obelisk with a slanted apex. The structure was completed in 1884 before being fully opened to the public four years later. The completed structure was the tallest building in the world until the Eiffel Tower’s completion in 1889.

For more on George Washington’s legacy, check out our free ebook, “The Meaning of Washington’s Birthday.”

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