On December 6, 1884, with rain falling and wind gusting to 55 mph, a steam hoist lifted the two-ton pyramidion marble capstone to the top of the Washington Monument, thus bringing it nearly to its full height of 555.5 feet. Despite its simple grandeur, taking the monument from artist’s concept to this completion took more than 50 torturous years.
In the early 1800s, efforts by U.S. government agencies to build a monument honoring George Washington suffered several false starts. In September 1833, the Washington National Monument Society was founded in another attempt to build a monument, led by then Chief Justice John Marshall.
The society’s first major task was fundraising. It wanted everyone in the country to have an equal opportunity to help build the monument. Thus, contributions were restricted to one dollar per year per person – a noble idea, but impractical. By 1836, only $28,000 had trickled in.
However, that was enough to hold a design competition. The winner: South Carolinian Robert Mills, one of the most renowned contemporary American architects.
Mills envisioned the world’s largest and grandest monument honoring one person: an imposing circular colonnaded building 100 feet high with an obelisk shaft in the center 600 feet tall.