Washington DC Monuments Overview
The many Washington DC monuments give the city its nickname, America’s Rome. The Washington DC monuments share thousands of stories about the people and events that created the nation into what it is today. It’s a fascinating history about a country that quickly rose from obscurity and a revolution based on principles of equality and democracy, into the most powerful country in the world. At a time when political partisanship is at its highest, the Washington DC monuments provide a healthy reminder of what created and unified the country in the first place.
Below is a summary of the Washington DC monuments on the national mall. A national mall audio tour is also part of the TripScout mobile app’s Washington DC guide.
The Washington Monument honors George Washington, the commander-in-chief and hero of the American Revolution who later became the nation’s first president. This giant obelisk was designed by the freemasons, a secret society that Washington was a part of, and took almost 40 years to build because of politics and budget cuts (which is why the marble changes colors a third of the way up). At the time of its completion in 1884, it was the tallest building in the world until the Eiffel Tower soon surpassed it. It remains the tallest building in Washington DC the world’s tallest stone structure. The Washington Monument is the oldest of the Washington DC monuments.
The Lincoln Memorial honors Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. Lincoln was responsible for abolishing slavery, holding the country together during the Civil War, and providing successful reconciliation afterwards. He was also the first American president to be assassinated. The Lincoln Memorial was designed after the Parthenon, the Greek temple in Athens. The memorial designer felt that a memorial dedicated to a man who defended democracy, should be based on a structure found in the birthplace of democracy. This memorial is viewed as the nation’s stage and has been the site of many famous protests, rallies, and speeches, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963. After exploring the monument, sit on the steps and look out on the excellent views of the National Mall, Reflecting Pool, Washington Monument, and Capitol Building. The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most visited of the Washington DC monuments.
The Jefferson Memorial honors Thomas Jefferson. He held many important titles, including governor of Virginia, ambassador to France, Secretary of State, 2nd vice president and 3rd president of the United States of America, but perhaps most notable, he was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. The country owes much of its founding democratic philosophy to Jefferson. He is often cited as one of the most enlightened men of the 18th century. Prominent writing from Jefferson decorate the interior, including excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, surrounded by a quote that summarizes his personal and political philosophy: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” The memorial was designed after the Pantheon of Rome and was based on designs that Jefferson used to build his home in Monticello and the University of Virginia. The statue of Jefferson has a direct line of site to the White House in order to, as rumor has it, keep an eye on the President to make sure that the federal government doesn’t overstep its bounds and get too powerful. This is a little further away than the other Washington DC monuments on the National Mall, but is still one of the most popular and well worth the extra time to visit it.
The Vietnam Memorial memorial was the first war memorial built in the United States and was made to give the nation closure from the Vietnam War. Officially lasting for 16 years (but unofficially, even longer), the Vietnam War was the longest and most controversial war in America’s history. You can’t miss the cost of war when you look at the personal items amidst the list of 58,000 names of American soldiers who were killed. Later additions to the memorial include a monument honoring the women who were volunteers, transcribers, nurses, and other support roles, and the Three Soldiers. The Three Soldiers are real-life size representations of soldiers and their actual gear, looking at their fallen brothers listed on the monument. The young white, black, and Hispanic men are designed to signify both the youth and ethnic diversity of the veterans. The Vietnam Memorial’s black granite and modern design is much different than the Greco-Roman style used for all the other Washington DC monuments.
Korean War Memorial
The Korean War Memorial honors the veterans of the Korean War, which was the first war led by the United Nations. It was a costly war, as approximately 58,000 U.S. soldiers died or went missing during the war (almost as many as in Vietnam) and approximately 600,000 from other UN countries. While the war lasted 3 years for the United States and other UN countries, it’s still ongoing since North and South Korea are still technically at war. In contrast to the other war memorials, like World War 2 which in many ways glorifies war, or the Vietnam memorial which has more of a somber perspective, the Korean War Memorial tires to portray an accurate depiction of war. The 19 hero-sized statues in their full combat gear are emerging through bushes and trees. They look exhausted and afraid. Which makes sense, they are at war. The 19 statues represent each branch of the military and each combat job. They reflect off of the black wall to make 38, representing the 38th parallel that still divides North and South Korea. The sandblasted sketches in the wall depict actual people helping in the war efforts, including clergy, code breakers, nurses, pilots, and even dogs. This is one of the most eerie of the Washington DC monuments to visit at night.
The FDR Memorial honors President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), the 32nd president of the United States. FDR was one of the most dominant and influential political figures in the 20th century. Unlike the designs of other Washington DC monuments, this memorial tells an elaborate story about FDR’s presidency and the era he represented. He was the only U.S. president to ever serve more than 2 terms, actually serving 4 from 1933 – 1945. During this period he led the country through both the Great Depression and World War II. In his famous “first hundred days”, FDR called a special session of Congress and immediately began submitting reform and recovery measures for approval to institute what he referred to as the “New Deal” for the American people. This New Deal included a series of programs designed to assist the people during the Great Depression and aid the economy’s recovery. He added government jobs for the unemployed and reformed Wall Street, banks, and the transportation sector. Virtually all the important bills he proposed were enacted by Congress. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures a portion of your deposits held in banks, and Social Security, were both part of these programs that still exist today.
World War 2 Memorial
The World War 2 Memorial is one of the most patriotic sites in America. It’s full of symbolism about freedom, victory, good versus evil, American strength, and ultimately, peace. It honors the 16 million Americans who fought in the war, the 400,000 who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and all those who worked to support the war effort back at home. This generation of Americans became known as “The Greatest Generation”, due to their service and sacrifice for the country, as they both survived and recovered from America’s Great Depression in the 1930’s and went on to fight for their country and the world a few years later. Make sure to be respectful while touring one of the most symbolic and patriotic of the Washington DC monuments as you will most likely see many World War 2veterans at the memorial during your visit.
The MLK Memorial honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK), one of the greatest human rights advocates of all time. He was a pastor and the key leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and 60’s. He is an iconic figure and was essential in advancing civil rights in the United States through nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience inspired by Mahatma Gandhi of India. King was arrested nearly 30 times trying to defend African-American civil rights and became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination. This MLK Memorial conveys three themes that were central throughout Dr. King’s life – America’s potential for freedom, opportunity for all, and justice. His vision for America was captured in his messages of hope and possibility for a future anchored in dignity, sensitivity, and mutual respect. The memorial opened to the public in 2011 with a ceremony led by President Barack Obama, which makes it the newest of the Washington DC monuments.
56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence
The 56 Signers Memorial honors the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence. These men put their lives on the line for a belief “that all men are created equal” with the unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Despite being one of the smallest and more often missed of the Washington DC monuments, it’s an important one that honors the 56 people who put their lives on the line by publicly declaring independence against the British Empire – the most powerful empire on earth at the time. This was a treasonous act, punishable by hanging and dismemberment while still alive, as well as a forfeiture of all property and business from your family. Signing this document was the moment of no return for these politicians and the signers risked losing everything in order to set the American colonies on the path towards liberty. The Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson and was edited by a small committee that included John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
Albert Einstein Memorial
The Albert Einstein Memorial honors Albert Einstein, the German-born theoretical physicist and philosopher of science who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 and whose name has become synonymous with “genius”. This memorial is often missed as most people aren’t aware that there is a memorial across the street from the National Mall. This humble and approachable statue of Einstein, on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences, feels like it’s calling you to have a seat with him under the shade and debate questions of the universe. And for the children, it’s as if Einstein is inviting them to sit on his lap and listen to a story. And feel free, as it’s the only one of the Washington DC monuments that you are allowed to climb. Some of his most famous formulas (such as the theory of relativity and the famous mass-energy equivalence formula e=mc2) are engraved in his book and the map on the ground has over 2,700 metal studs representing the planets, sun, moon, stars, and other celestial objects as they were positioned in the sky on the memorial’s dedication date. On the back of the bench, behind the statue, there are a few more quotes of his that you can read. Legend has it that if you rub his nose, you will gain some of his intelligence.
DC World War 1 Memorial
The DC World War 1 Memorial honors the citizens of DC who served in World War I. But as you notice on the memorial, it simply refers to the war as “the world war” since no one predicted a second world war to occur and even referred to this war as “The War to End All Wars”. This has been one of the most criticized of the Washington DC monuments over the years because there actually is no national memorial for World War 1 in DC as this monument only memorializes veterans who were DC residents. There have been movements to nationalize this memorial, but this has not happened and there currently is no indication that it will.
Enjoy your trip to the Washington DC monuments on your Washington DC tour!
Washington DC Monuments Tour
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National Mall Tour
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White House Tour
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