The Washington Monument serves as a towering tribute to the very first president of the United States of America, George Washington. While pretty much everyone who has entered the city of D.C. has ended up seeing the Washington Monument at some point during their stay, many don’t realize that the original proposed design was quite different!
How was the Washington Monument designed?
Following the death of George Washington in 1799, the idea of developing a monument in his honor was immediately proposed which began to gain support from government officials. Ultimately this sparked the creation of the Washington National Monument Society (WNMS) in 1833 to oversee the fundraising and construction of the monument.
To decide on a design for the monument they were in charge of constructing, the WNMS launched a national contest in 1836 open to architects across the country which allowed them to submit design proposals. After nearly a full decade of consideration, in 1845, Robert Mills’ proposed design was selected as the competition winner. The original proposed design, which you can see below, included a few different details that you’ll quickly notice are missing in today’s design.
Why was the Washington Monument design changed?
While the towering obelisk obviously remained unchanged, the circular colonnade at the monument’s base was removed shortly after construction began in 1848 for several reasons. The first and most prevalent was limited funds, which resulted in changes like shortening the design overall, removing the circular colonnade at the base, and even switching the type of stone being used in construction.
The first pause of construction occurred in 1854 due to a lack of funds, at which point the monument stood at only 150 feet. The monument then remained unfinished for over 20 years, when in 1876 the construction project was taken over by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At this point, the decision was made to alter the design further by opting for more readily available and cheaper materials, most notably the stone exterior of the monument.
Now, after years of weathering and exposure, you can see exactly where they switched the stones they were using to build the monument around 1/3 of the way up! This happened because the U.S. government, under the guidance of Lieutenant Colonel Casey, decided to switch the quarry from which they were sourcing the marble used on the exterior of the monument. At the time, the marble likely seemed identical, but with time, the differences between the two versions of the same stone have become quite noticeable.
The Washington Monument was ultimately completed in 1884 under Casey’s supervision and held its dedication ceremony on February 21, 1885, in a ceremony attended by President Chester A. Arthur as well as several other dignitaries from the national and international political scene.
Other proposed designs for the Washington Monument
Could you imagine if D.C. had a massive “arch de triumph” in the middle of the city?
This proposed base for an obelisk design of the Washington Monument seems like it could have been beautiful!
This proposed design would no doubt have been incredibly different from what we have today, and considering the level of detail in a design like this, it’s not hard to imagine that it would have been more difficult to execute!
Overall, as it stands today, the Washington Monument is, in our humble and non-biased opinion, one of the most iconic monuments in the world! Its design may be simple, but it’s that simplicity and grandiose scale that makes the Washington Monument so eye-catching and memorable.