Built to commemorate the first president of the United States, the monument has also become a hallowed symbol of the nation's government and the city in which it is located. Though the eminent nineteenth-century American architect Robert Mills conceived the initial design, the structure also reflects the technical knowledge and aesthetic judgement of Thomas Lincoln Casey, the Army Corps engineer charged with completing the project. Under Casey, a stagnant construction campaign emblematic of mid-century political and economic turmoil at long last produced the tallest building of its day and an enduring American icon.
The monument represents a partially-executed and subsequently stripped version of a design inspired by the Greek and Egyptian Revivals. Because the colonnaded pantheon called for by Robert Hills was not built, no Greek Revival influence is apparent on the existing structure; the completed obelisk is a product of the Egyptian Revival, and its Egyptian character was originally enhanced by winged globe entrance surrounds. The monument is also significant as an engineering feat: it was the tallest building of its day, made use of the famous column produced by the Phoenix Iron Company, and incorporated an early Otis Brothers elevator.
The architect Robert Hills and the engineer Thomas Lincoln Casey must both receive credit for the completed form of the monument. Mills had already designed the Baltimore Washington Monument when he submitted the winning entry in the Washington National Monument Society's design competition of 1836. In the same year, the federal government appointed him Architect of Public Buildings, and it was in this capacity that he carried out many of the commissions for which he is most famous: the Treasury Building, Patent Office and Post Office. However, for a variety of reasons, Mills' Washington National Monument design was never executed as he intended. After the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers took control of the project in 1876, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey became Superintending Engineer in Charge of Public Buildings and Grounds; as such, Casey was largely responsible for the monument's final appearance.
The monument was erected in two distinct phases, the first one occurring between 1848 and 1858, the second between 1878 and 1885. The Washington National Monument Society selected Mills' design in 1836, but construction did not begin for another twelve years. An 1848 Congressional resolution permitted the Society to erect the monument on public land within the city, and the Society chose a site near the intersection of the east-west axis through the Capitol and the north-south axis through the President's House (White House). The foundation was laid in June 1848, followed on July 4th by the cornerstone. Progress slowed dramatically in 1854 and halted altogether in 1858. Work resumed under federal direction in October 1878, and a second cornerstone was laid on August 7, 1880. The capstone was set on December 6, 1884, and the monument dedicated on February 21, 1885. Important additions and modifications occurred over the next few years.
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Print Only: The indicated size is the print size (for instance 16"x12" is exactly 16"x12".)
Framed Prints: The indicated size references the approximate dimensions of the print and mat (excluding the 3/4" wide frame). To get the total dimension of one of our framed prints add 1" to each dimension (for instance a 16"x12" indicated framed print is actually 17"x13" in total size). The prints contained in our framed prints are scaled down versions (to account for the presence of the mat) compared to the similarly sized print only version. So for reference, a 32"x24" print only version contains a slightly larger print that the 32"x24" framed version which contains a 28"x20" print and 2" mat.