The Washington Monument is an obelisk-shaped structure on the National Mall in Washington, DC, designed to memorialize George Washington, the first President of the United States and commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. But why is there a tiny aluminum pyramid on the top of the Washington Monument?
The Washington Monument has a modest (9-inch-tall) aluminum pyramid on top because aluminum was considered more valuable than gold or silver at the time it was built.
The Aluminum Pyramid
The obelisk’s construction was ultimately finished on December 6, 1884, more than 36 years after the initial cornerstone was put, with the ceremonial laying of the capstone. When you think of precious metals appropriate for the crowning achievement of a 555-foot monument dedicated to the nation’s greatest hero, you think of gold, maybe silver, but not aluminum.
However, in the late 1800s, pure aluminum was an extremely scarce commodity, and it was chosen for this important quality since it did not tarnish. The Washington Monument’s 100-ounce aluminum capstone was the world’s most significant single-cast aluminum piece. The Washington Monument cost $1.18 million in 1884 or roughly $30 million in 2019. (Source: How Stuff Works)
A Zinc Time Capsule in the Cornerstone
On July 4, 1848, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people gathered on the National Mall to witness the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument. But first, the 24,500-pound block of pure white marble had to be pulled through the streets on a cart, with passersby helping by clutching lengths of rope.
Following the Speaker of the House’s two-hour droning speech, the assembled dignitaries placed mementos in a zinc box that would be sealed in the monument’s cornerstone for eternity. Copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, a portrait of Washington, an American flag, all currency in circulation, and newspapers from 14 states were all included in the zinc time capsule. The cornerstone was laid by a grandmaster of the Masonic lodges, and its exact position is supposedly yet to be discovered. (Source: How Stuff Works)
World’s Tallest Manmade Structure for Five Years
In 1789, Eiffel completed his ridiculous tower, which stands 1,063 feet tall, nearly twice as tall as the Washington Monument.
The Washington Monument, on the other hand, is — and probably always will be — the highest structure in Washington, D.C., though not for the reasons you may have heard. It has nothing to do with city planners who didn’t want any development to obscure the view of the Capitol or the Washington Monument. That is, in fact, a myth.
The Height of Buildings Acts of 1899 and 1910 established the height limitations on structures in the District of Columbia, which were largely concerned with the fire safety of new construction methods that allowed buildings to be constructed to astounding heights. The restrictions, which are still in effect in D.C., limit building height to the width of the street in front of them, 130 feet in most areas and 160 feet on Pennsylvania Avenue. (Source: How Stuff Works)