Picture Archive: Washington Monument, 1940s

On its 125th anniversary, the Washington Monument is shuttered to the public.

A couple peer at the U.S. Capitol from the top of the Washington Monument.


On October 9, 1888, the Washington Monument opened to the public. Today—on its 125th anniversary—no one can visit it. That's because the federal monument is located in a national park, and the U.S. government has been partially shut down.

A bit of a stutter is part of the monument's history. The 555-foot-tall obelisk, a tribute to George Washington's military might, was dedicated on February 21, 1885. But it didn't officially open until nearly four years later. Construction, which began in 1848, took 36 years and was interrupted by a lack of funds in 1854—when the monument was just over 150 feet tall—and didn't resume until 1876. By that time the same marble was no longer available, so there's a color change memorializing the delay. The monument's architect, Robert Mills, died 30 years before his vision was complete.

When the Washington Monument finally opened its elevator doors, tourists swarmed to what was then the tallest structure in the world. (The designation was short-lived: The 1,063-foot-tall Eiffel Tower took the title when it opened in 1889.) During the monument's early days, an estimated 55,000 visitors a month rode to the top.

National Geographic staff photographer B. Anthony Stewart captured this couple in the 1940s, peeking out the monument's observation windows at the U.S. Capitol on the other side of the National Mall.