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1884 One Hundred Years Ago

February 2024
1min read

At about 2:00 P.M. on the windy afternoon of December 6, a small group of men on a wooden platform 550 feet above Washington, D.C., witnessed the lowering into place of the 3,300pound capstone of the Washington Monument. Into the top of the capstone one of them then screwed the very peak of the monument, a pyramid of solid aluminum just 8.9 inches high.

Thus was completed a construction job that had taken more than thirtysix years. Aluminum, a novel metal more expensive than silver, had been chosen to top off the marble structure because it would conduct lightning efficiently yet virtually never corrode. At one hundred ounces, this was the largest piece of the metal that had ever been cast.

Once the apex was fastened, flags were unfurled, a twenty-one-gun salute was fired from the White House grounds, guests near the top of the monument sang “The Star-Spangled Banner, ” and a representative of the Washington Monument Society read a resolution hailing its completion. (A far grander ceremony would be held on the following Washington’s Birthday.)

The next day The New York Times issued a critical appraisal of the obelisk, stating that “as a work of art the monument is entitled to neither more nor less consideration than a factory chimney. … Perhaps the next Washington monument that we feel moved to erect may be something not absurdly unworthy of its subject. In the meantime we have the sweet consciousness that the Washington Monument is the tallest structure in the world.”

In this the monolith had surpassed the Cologne Cathedral. But it would only be tallest until 1889, when the Eiffel Tower, nearly twice as high, was erected in Paris.

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