Plans for a national monument to commemorate George Washington began as early as 1783 when Congress proposed that an equestrian statue of George Washington be erected. Although the Monument was authorized by Congress, little action was taken, even after Major Peter Charles L’Enfant selected its site in his 1791 Federal City plan.
Washington’s 1799 death rekindled public aspiration for an appropriate tribute to him, and John Marshall proposed that a special sepulcher be erected for the General within the Capitol itself. Lack of funds postponed construction.
In an elaborate Fourth of July ceremony in 1848, the cornerstone was laid. The Washington Monument was built between 1848 and 1884 as a tribute to George Washington’s military leadership from 1775-1783 during the American Revolution.
Its construction took place in two major phases, 1848-56, and 1876-84 – a lack of funds, political turmoil, and uncertainty about the survival of the American Union caused the intermittent hiatus.
The outbreak of Civil War of 1861 exacerbated the society’s difficulties with fund-raising efforts. When Lt Col Thomas L Casey resumed work on the project in 1876, he heavily altered the original design for the monument so that it resembled an unadorned Egyptian obelisk with a pointed pyramidion
The US Army Corps of Engineers of the War Department was charged with completing the construction, and the monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885, and officially opened to the public on October 9, 1888.
Weighing 81,120 tons, the Washington Monument stands 555′ 5-1/8″ tall. The walls of the monument range in thickness from 15′ at the base to 18” at the upper shaft.
They are composed primarily of white marble blocks from Maryland with a few from Massachusetts, underlain by Maryland blue gneiss and Maine granite. A slight color change is perceptible at the 150′ level near where construction slowed in 1854. (LOC)
Over 36,000 stones were used to construct the monument. But those are not the only stones in it – over the years almost 200- “commemorative stones” (also referred to as “memorial stones” and “presented stones”), presented by individuals, societies, cities, States, and nations of the world, have been added to the inside walls of the monument. Most of the stones date from 1849 to 1855.
Back in 1911, Hawaii was looking to have its representation in the Washington Monument. At that time, forty states and sixteen cities and a variety of other organizations were represented in the monument with memorial tablets.
“The series of memorial stones begin at the 30-foot elevation and continue up to the 280 foot level. In all there are 170 of these stones all containing tributes to the memory of Washington and many of them notable for their beauty elaborate carving or origin.”
“It is possible that the Sons of the American Revolution and the Hawaiian Historical Society may be enlisted in the proposition. There are many historic places around the Islands many connected with the career of Kamehameha the Great from which a suitable historic stone could be obtained.” (Hawaiian Gazette, March 24, 1911)
Most of the stones date from 1849 to 1855. Sixteen stones date to the twentieth century. The last stone was installed in 2000. There is a stone from every state, and also from fraternal and community organizations, cities and towns, foreign countries, and individuals. Stone types include granite, marble, limestone, sandstone, soapstone, and jade.
Hawaii would have to wait another 25-years before its memorial stone was added to the Washington Monument. The work of installation was begun on January 21, 1936 and completed on February 26, 1936.
It’s a 4-foot by 2-foot and 6-inches thick “Coral sandstone from Waimanalo, Hawaii donated by Grace Brothers, Ltd” with the words “Hawaii” followed by “Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Ka Pono.” It sits at the 360-foot landing of the monument.
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