George Washington remains one of the most important figures in American history. As a military leader, he led the colonies through the Revolutionary War to independence. As a statesman, he helped forge the Constitution and then served as the first President of the United States. How do you honor such an important historical figure?

In the 1780s, the Continental Congress decided to honor Washington with a prominent monument at the site of the new national government. Peter L’Enfant’s 1791 design for Washington, D.C. made the Washington Monument the centerpiece of the new city.

The monument was not built right away, however. It was not until 1836 that the Washington National Monument Society chose Robert Mills’ architectural design — a tall obelisk that would tower over the city. An obelisk is a tall, narrow, four-sided monument that tapers toward the top, where it ends in a pyramid.

The Society laid the cornerstone for the Washington Monument on July 4, 1848, and construction began soon thereafter. Unfortunately, the Civil War and other political pressures forced a halt to the construction. The Washington Monument stood at only about 150 feet tall for many years.

Eventually, construction was completed and the capstone was set on December 6, 1884. The Washington Monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885, and officially opened to the public on October 9, 1888. Finally finished, it was 555 feet 518 inches tall!

The Washington Monument sits at the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It is due east of the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial.

Made of marble, granite, and bluestone gneiss, it’s the tallest structure in Washington, D.C., the tallest stone structure in the world, and the tallest obelisk in the world. Built of 36,491 stone blocks, the monument weighs 90,854 tons!

When it was completed, it was also the tallest structure in the world. In 1889, however, the Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris, France, and it took over that title.

At the very top of the Washington Monument, there is an aluminum pyramid. When the monument was built, aluminum was as expensive as silver. It was the largest single piece of aluminum ever cast at that time.

The Washington Monument features an elevator and an 897-step stairway that lead to an observation deck at 500 feet above ground. On a clear day, you can see over 30 miles in every direction.

On August 23, 2011, the Washington Monument sustained some damage during an earthquake that was centered in Virginia. The National Park Service closed the monument indefinitely, so it could be inspected and repaired.

69 Join the Discussion

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    • We were WONDERing when we’d get a comment from our Wonder Friend, Mak, today! Thanks for letting us know one of the amazing facts you learned by exploring this Wonder about the Washington Monument! :-)

  1. Whoa! That’s pretty tall! That is really cool and reminds me of a comic strip by Stephan Pastis that mentioned the Washington Monument. It was really funny – except for the fact that my dog ate it. I think tomorrow’s Wonder is going to be about sloths or monkeys (I like sloths)! :D

    • Hi, Sharkysharky! We’re sorry your dog ate the comic strip! Thanks so much for trying to guess what tomorrow’s Wonder will be about! You might be right…we’ll all have to check back tomorrow to find out for sure! :-)

    • Those are some pretty cool facts you learned about the Washington Monument today, Josh! Thank you for sharing them with us and for being a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

  2. TODAY’S WONDER WAS ABOUT THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT. I WENT THERE BEFORE. IT IS SO SCARY WHEN YOU GO HIGH. ME AND MY SISTER WENT UP THERE.

    • WOW, Tomiya! You are super lucky to have visited all the way to the top of the Washington Monument! What an adventure you and your sister had together! Thank you for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • We have really enjoyed hearing the different guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder, Missy and Robbie! Thanks for letting us know what YOU think tomorrow’s Wonder might be about, too! Let’s all meet back here in Wonderopolis tomorrow to see if you guys were right! :-)

  3. I thought this Wonder was really cool! :) I really like Washington D.C., it holds so much history! I have been to the top of the Washington Monument before, too!

    • That’s really exciting, Sera! It must be neat to be up on the observation deck of the monument and look out over Washington, D.C.! Thank you for sharing YOUR personal connection to today’s Wonder! :-)

  4. Wow, I did not know that the Washington Monument was 555 feet and 5 and 1/8 of an inch tall. That is amazing!!! I was wondering though, how long would it take to walk up the stairs in the Washington Monument and how long would it take to go on the elevator? Oh, and I think that tomorrow’s wonder will be about something that happened on December 6, because yesterday’s and today’s wonders have been about something that happened on December 6.
    :-)
    :-)
    :-)
    :-)
    :-)

    • Hi, Abbe! If you listen really close while watching the video for today’s Wonder, you’ll hear the man say it takes 60 seconds to ride the elevator up to the top of the Washington Monument! We’re not sure how long it would take to climb the 897 steps that lead to the top of the monument, but we know it would be GREAT exercise! :-)

  5. I really liked this! It was a little strange! I never could have guessed it would have been about how tall the Washington Monument would be!! 555 feet and 5 1/2 inches tall!! That’s an amazing fact. It lead me to wondering about how tall other things were.. Like the twin towers! How tall are they planning on making it? (They haven’t finished re-building it yet, have they?) I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day will be about a lazy animal.. or maybe hammocks?

    –Hannah from Team Turner ;)

    • Hello, Hannah! Thanks so much for your comment today! :-)

      We don’t think building is complete yet on the new Twin Towers, but we know that there is a very special World Trade Center memorial that has opened near the site. It’s called the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Here’s a link that will tell you more about it: http://www.911memorial.org/.

  6. Wow, I didn’t know that the Washington Monument was 555 feet and 5 1/8 inches, that is an interesting fact. I like that there is a lot of information. This makes me wonder about what interesting thing will be on this tomorrow. I think that tomorrow’s wonder will be about Christmas, because it is super close to Christmas. :) Have a good day everybody!!!

    • That was super nice of you to wish all of your Wonder Friends a good day, Olivia! Thanks for being so awesome, and also for letting us know that you learned some cool new facts about the Washington Monument today! :-)

  7. I learned that George Washington remains one of the most important figures in American history. I can’t believe the monument is 555 feet and 5 1/8 inches. I wonder why they made it that big? I also can’t believe that there was an earthquake that damaged some of the monument. I liked how the monument was dedicated to George Washington, someone that special deserves the honor. I’m not sure what tomorrow’s wonder will be about, because wonderopolis does many random subjects and it’s hard to tell what wonderopolis is going to do next. I guess that’s why its called WONDERopolis.

    • You’re right, Briana! We like to keep people WONDERing every day, so we only give a small clue about what each next day’s Wonder might be about! We’re super happy that you learned so many new facts about the Washington Monument today! :-)

  8. Today I learned that the monument is 555 and 5 1/8 feet tall and weighs 90,854 tons. I also learned that it was built because the Continental Congress decided to honor Washington with a monument at the site of the new national government. Peter L’Enfant’s design made the Washington Monument.

    My wonder today is who is Peter L’Enfant, and why can you see 30 miles only on a clear day why not a rainy day????

    I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is going to be about rain or beds (because I sleep longer when it’s a lazy day). :) :)

    • Learning more about Peter L’Enfant would make for a GREAT future Wonder of the Day®, Reagan! Thanks for sharing what you learned by exploring this Wonder today, and also for taking a guess at what you think tomorrow’s Wonder might be! :-)

  9. I learned that the Washington Monument is 555 feet high. I liked when you told me how tall the monument was and how much it weighed. Today’s wonder makes me think if they’re going to build the monument taller because at first, the monument was only 150 feet tall for years. I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day will be about other monuments.

    • We sure liked hearing what you learned from today’s Wonder, Clayton! We also like that you WONDERed even more about how tall the monument use to be, how tall it is now, and how tall it might be in the future! That’s AWESOME thinking! :-)

  10. I think it is pretty tall. Probably a giant can’t even touch it. This place is so cool, I love wonderopolis! I can’t stop thinking about what the next wonder is going to be!

    • We think it’s COOL that YOU think Wonderopolis is so COOL, Tyler! Thank you for leaving us this AWESOME comment today and for continuing to WONDER! YOU ROCK! :-)

  11. Wow, I did not know the monument was so old and tall. I have no clue what tomorrow’s wonder will be. I wonder how many years it took to build it.

    • We’re sure glad you stopped by today’s Wonder so you could learn something new about the Washington Monument, Jacob! We like that you and your “Team Turner” classmates are sharing such amazing comments with us, and that many of you are trying to guess what tomorrow’s Wonder might be! It took almost 50 years to build the monument. That’s a long time, but it takes a while to build something so tall! :-)

  12. I learned that the Washington Monument is that tall! I liked the pictures of the Washington Monument. It makes me wonder about tall buildings. I think tomarrow’s wonder of the day will be about the Lincoln Memorial.

  13. I learned that the monument is the tallest stone structure in the US. I liked this wonder because it told me facts I never knew. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about monkeys or sloths because sloths are lazy.
    :O

    Caleb
    from team Turner

    • We’ll have to see if you’re right about your guess of monkeys or sloths, Caleb! Thank you for commenting today and sharing what you learned about the Washington Monument! :-)

  14. The Washington Monument is 555 feet tall. I have been to the Washington Monument. It was really high. When we came down, and went back to our hotel, the elevator broke down. I found it out on the news. Thanks for another great wonder.

    • WOW! We’re sure glad the elevator didn’t break down when you were riding it, Noah! It must have been SUPER fun to be at the top of the monument and get to see Washington D.C. from such a great vantage point! Thank you for sharing your experience with us! :-)

    • Hey, Asher! We’re glad you thought today’s Wonder was cool! We think YOU are cool for being such a great Wonder Friend! :-)

  15. Hi, first of all I think that the word obelisk is so cool, and I have never heard it before, and I will make sure to write it in my vocabulary section of my notebook. It was mind-blowing that the Washington Monument was started on in 1848 and actually finished in 1884 (that’s 36 years to build)!!! Also, I would have never known that it was 555 feet and 5 1/8 inches tall which is humongous! I was wondering how they measured the height and weight of the tower. My family and I have been to Washington D.C. and to the top of the tower, and saw the sights from the video, which was awesome. My guess for tomorrow’s wonder is that it will be about the sloths because they are lazy.

    • We can certainly tell that your vocabulary notebook is full of WONDERful words, James, because you used some AWESOME ones to describe what you learned today! We’re not sure how they measure the monument or other very tall and heavy objects, but that’s a great idea for a future Wonder of the Day®! Thank you for leaving us such a fantastic comment! :-)

    • We think 72 Wonders is AMAZING, Charlotte! It also makes our day to know that you and your classmates keep Wonder Books…how AWESOME! Thank you for sending in your Wonder…we can’t wait to read it! :-)

  16. That is a very good video that has lots of good views of the monument. I have been there before and love it up at the top. One question I have is why they call it the Reflecting Pool.

    • Hello, Alex! That’s a super question! Many memorials have “reflecting pools” that are shallow and filled with water so visitors can see the image of the memorial reflected in them. Reflecting pools are also a place where visitors can think (or “reflect”) on what the memorial means. Thanks for leaving us such an awesome comment! :-)

  17. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We loved learning about the Washington Monument. This WONDER made us WONDER, how is it decided and who decides which president there will be a monument honoring? Which president will have the next monument and what will it be called? Is there any significance with all the 5’s in the height?

    TEAM Caisse’s 5th grade Reading Class :)

    • Those are all AWESOME questions, TEAM Caisse! We can tell you guys learned a lot by exploring this Wonder together, and we REALLY appreciate all the extra WONDERing you did! We’ll have to do a bit more WONDERing ourselves to learn more about the answers to your questions. Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis today! :-)

  18. I learned that the tickets are free to visit the Washington Monument. It was built already in 2009 and I liked the video.

    • We think it’s GREAT that you enjoyed the video for this Wonder of the Day® about the Washington Monument, Ronald! Thank you for sharing some of the things you learned by exploring it! Have a WONDERful day! :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know what you thought about this Wonder of the Day®, Lane! We learned a LOT about the Washington Monument, too! :-)

    • Hello, Kayla! Thank you for leaving us such a WONDERful comment! We’re glad you enjoyed learning some new facts about the Washington Monument!

  19. Dear Wonderopolis, this wonder question reminds me of the book I am reading. Its called The Serpent’s Shadow by Rick Riordan. It is a good book it has the Washington Monument on the cover. Nic

    • What an awesome connection to our Wonder, Nic! Thanks for telling us about your book, The Serpent’s Shadow, too. We Wonder if the book’s is set in Washington, D.C.? :)

    • That’s great to hear, Wonder Friend Naaznee! We Wonder what your school assignment is about? We’d love to hear more! :)

  20. Why did we choose George Washington to be the 1st president?
    We read a book about the Washington Monument. Why could they not find any more white marble to finish? The book said they had to use another kind.

    • Great question, Ms. Phillips’ Class! George Washington was elected by his peers to lead this young and new country called the United States! We are so glad you’re reading all about the Washington Monument – what a WONDERful topic! We hope you’ll continue to Wonder about the different monuments located in Washington, D.C.! :)

    • Hi, Ann! Check out the Wonder Video, and the pictures from the Wonder Gallery. This should help give you a better idea of what each Wonder is all about before you read it. This Wonder is all about how tall the Washington Monument is in Washington, DC. Did you know that tomorrow is President’s Day? Thanks for WONDERing with us! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How tall is the Washington Monument?
  • What is an obelisk?
  • How much does the Washington Monument weigh?

Wonder Gallery

The US Capitol and Washington Monumentwashington-dc_shutterstock_17626774http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-washington-monument-national-mall-image17864487dreamstime_xxl_19547235 customVimeo Video

Try It Out

What a monumental Wonder of the Day! Keep the learning going and explore the following fun activities with a friend or family member:

  • Have you ever seen the Washington Monument in person? If not, you’re missing a magnificent marvel of architecture. Jump online and check out these photos and videos of the Washington Monument, courtesy of the National Park Service.
  • Ready to explore the nation’s capital? Many schools take field trips to Washington, D.C., because so many historical sites can be seen and toured in a short time. If you can’t make it to Washington, D.C. any time soon, you can still explore all that our capital has to offer. Simply take The Virtual Tour of Washington, D.C. online! From the Washington Monument and the White House to the Capitol and the Jefferson Memorial, you can see the sights and learn so much about their history without ever leaving home. You can even virtually tour the collections of some of the city’s most famous museums!
  • Up for a challenge? Design your own memorial! Pick out someone worthy of honor. It could be a current or former American President, a war hero, or even a relative or parent. Just choose someone you admire. Then think about the qualities you value in that person. What kind of memorial would be a fitting tribute to that person and his or her qualities? An obelisk like the Washington Monument? Or perhaps a statue along the lines of the Lincoln Memorial? Something else entirely? Grab some art supplies and sketch what you think the memorial should look like. If your subject is a relative or parent or someone else you know personally, share your design and thoughts with them. It’ll make their day for sure!

Still Wondering

Visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer to check out the Looking at Memorials activity to learn how memorials tell stories.

 

Test Your Knowledge

Wonder What’s Next?

What do an alligator in the bathtub and a kangaroo on the lawn have in common? Find out tomorrow in Wonderopolis! 

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