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By the Numbers: The Washington Monument


As this NPS photo clearly shows, the top and the bottom aren’t quite the same color.


Number of recreational visits in the peak year of 1966. That’s right; Washington Monument visitation peaked more than 40 years ago. The visitor tally in 2008 (671,031) was less than one-third the number recorded in 1966. Annual visitation hasn’t topped one million since 1994.


Total weight of the Robert Mills-designed monument in tons. The enormous size of the obelisk – so great that the site originally selected for it couldn’t safely carry its weight -- is borne by a 16,000 square-foot foundation that weighs almost 37,000 tons and is nearly 37 feet deep.


Number of days from the laying of the monument’s cornerstone on Tuesday, July 4, 1848, to the monument’s public opening on Tuesday, October 9, 1888. (At 40 years, 3 months, and 5 days, the Washington Monument was not exactly a fast-track project.) Conspiracy theorists love to remind us that the Freemasons sponsored the cornerstone dedication ceremony.


The monument’s height, in feet, according to the National Park Service. Various other heights have been reported, including a U.S. National Geodetic Survey measurement of 555.75 feet in 1999. Whichever measurement you choose, the Washington Monument is the tallest true obelisk ever erected, the tallest structure in our nation’s capital, and the tallest stone structure in the world. (Other structures laying claim to the latter distinction are either made of stone-faced concrete or report height measurements that include tall metal devices.)


Number of carved commemorative stones contributed for display in the monument by the 50 states, various foreign countries, and a number of organizations and individuals. Alaska’s stone, which is carved from solid jade, is generally considered to be the most impressive.


The level, in feet, at which there is a noticeable change in the color of the monument. By 1858, the bottom third of the monument had been completed with the use of white marble exterior stone supplied by a quarry in Maryland. There was then a construction delay of several decades occasioned by fundraising difficulties, the Civil War, political infighting, and related issues. When construction was finally resumed (with the first new blocks being laid in August 1880), the builders had to use marble supplied by a different quarry. Though it initially matched the bottom third very well, it weathered differently and eventually became noticeably darker.


Number of seconds of federal spending currently needed to pay the Washington Monument’s construction cost of $1,187,710. According to the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal government is now spending $43,000,000 an hour. Since that is $11,944.44 per second, some nitpickers may point out that it would take just 99.436 seconds of spending at that rate to pay that $1,187,710. Truly serious nitpickers will hasten to point out that the federal government spending rate is currently a lot more than $43 million an hour.


The number of minutes it took the original elevator, a steam operated device, to give visitors the 500-foot vertical ride from the monument’s lobby to the observation level. It takes the current elevator less than 72 seconds. The 897-step stairwell, which has 50 landings, has long been closed to the general public due to safety and vandalism concerns.


Cost, in millions of dollars, of the 1998-2001 overhaul that repaired and cleaned the exterior marble, expanded the observation deck, refurbished the elevator, and installed a climate-control system. For various reasons, including elevator work (new cab included) and security issues and upgrades following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the monument remained closed throughout 2001. It was finally reopened to the public on February 22, 2002 – George Washington’s birthday.


Inches of height lost between 1884 and 1934 due to repeated lightning strikes to the aluminum pyramidion (pyramidal tip) atop the monument’s capstone. A set of eight lightning rods installed around the pyramidion in 1934 ended the blunting.

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