On this day in 1884, in Washington, DC, stone-cutters and craftsmen place a nine-inch aluminum pyramid atop a tower of white marble, completing the construction of a long-awaited monument to the city’s namesake, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and the first President of the United States, George Washington.
Made of some 36,000 blocks of marble and granite stacked 555 feet in the air, the project anecdotally took forever to complete. It was originally conceived in 1783 by the the infant Congress of the Confederation, who decided a statue of George Washington, then merely the revered Revolutionary War general, should be placed near the site of the new Congressional building, wherever it might be.
The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848, with progress halted from 1854 to 1877 due to a lack of funds, a struggle for control over the Washington National Monument Society, and the intervention of the American Civil War. The first stone was laid atop the unfinished stump on August 7, 1880, the capstone was set on December 6, 1884, the completed monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885, and it officially opened October 9, 1888.
Upon completion, it became the world’s tallest structure, a title previously held by the Cologne Cathedral. The monument held this designation until 1889, when the Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris, France. In the six months following the dedication ceremony, over 10,000 people climbed the nearly 900 steps to the top of the spire. Today, an elevator makes the trip far easier, and more than 800,000 people visit the monument each year. A city law passed in 1910 restricted the height of new buildings to ensure that the monument will remain the tallest structure in Washington, DC; a fitting tribute to the man known as the “Father of His Country.”