Here’s What the Washington Monument Was Originally Supposed to Look Like

It’s not pretty.

National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Emma Roller
May 12, 2014, 11:50 a.m.

The Wash­ing­ton Monu­ment is open to the pub­lic for the first time in nearly three years. The ob­elisk was closed for renov­a­tions after a 2011 earth­quake left it un­safe for pub­lic vis­its. More than 16,00 tick­ets have been re­served to tour the monu­ment since con­struc­tion crews fin­ished re­pair­ing the monu­ment’s cracked and dam­aged stones

But, if some 19th-cen­tury ar­chi­tects had had their way, the monu­ment would look a lot dif­fer­ent than it does today. Be­low are some ori­gin­al designs for the monu­ment. Some of them aren’t pretty.

Then again, maybe some people would prefer if our na­tion­al ob­elisk looked dif­fer­ent. As my col­league Bri­an Res­nick wrote last year, The New York Times ran a with­er­ing re­view of the monu­ment after it opened in 1886. “As a work of art the monu­ment is en­titled to neither more nor less con­sid­er­a­tion than a fact­ory chim­ney, the ugli­ness of which is pardoned only for the use­ful pur­pose which it sub­serves,” the au­thor wrote.

The ar­chi­tect Robert Mills de­signed what was ori­gin­ally sup­posed to be­come the monu­ment (seen at left, be­low) in 1846. No, the top of the ob­elisk isn’t cut off — that’s how it was sup­posed to look. The design also fea­tured a pan­theon at the monu­ment’s base. On the right is an al­tern­ate con­cep­tion for the monu­ment, de­signed by Henry R. Searle in 1877.

(Library of Congress) Library of Congress

Wil­li­am Wal­lace de­signed the monu­ment be­low left, which de­picts George Wash­ing­ton stand­ing atop a globe. At right, a Goth­ic re­viv­al-style monu­ment.

(Library of Congress) Library of Congress

Three more Goth­ic-type designs that were pro­posed for the monu­ment.

(Library of Congress) Library of Congress

A cer­ti­fic­ate giv­en to donors for the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­al Monu­ment So­ci­ety.

(Library of Congress) Library of Congress

Well, look at this squat fel­low, de­signed by Ben­jamin Henry Latrobe in 1799.

(Library of Congress) Library of Congress

And, apro­pos of noth­ing, here’s a car­toon of Uncle Sam bel­low­ing, “No more of these hideous monu­ments!” The il­lus­tra­tion was pub­lished in 1885, the year the monu­ment was of­fi­cially com­pleted.

(Library of Congress) Library of Congress

Really, though, can you blame him?


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.