The tallest structure in America’s capital city is the Washington Monument. It is named for George Washington, the first president of the United States. I’m Bob Doughty.
And I’m Steve Ember. We tell about the Washington Monument and the man it honors on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.
The tallest structure in Washington, D-C, honors George Washington, the first president of the United States. He led the American colonies in the war of independence against England from Seventeen-Seventy-Five to Seventeen-Eighty-Three. Later he headed the group that wrote the American Constitution. As president, he helped the new United States of America through its difficult first years.
Today, millions of people from around the world visit the stone structure that honors George Washington. The Washington Monument stands almost one-hundred-seventy meters high, not far from the Potomac River. The monument is a white stone structure called an obelisk. Its four sides end in a point at the top.
Fifty American flags surround the monument. They represent the fifty states. The Washington Monument is one of the most photographed places in the world. Lights shine on the obelisk at night. It can be seen from far away. Fireworks are launched from near the monument on America’s Independence Day -- the Fourth of July -- and during other special celebrations.
The monument recently reopened after being closed for more than a year. Workers made several improvements. They built a new elevator to carry visitors to the observation area at the top of the monument. New security measures also were added. Workers had carried out a more extensive repair project beginning in Nineteen-Ninety-Eight. That project took two years and cost more than nine-million dollars.
Visitors to the Washington Monument begin by getting a free ticket. Long lines often form at the ticket office. Once people have their tickets, they stand in a short line near the monument. On a recent day, visitors talked to one another while waiting. They discovered that they came from all over the United States and several other nations. Some of the visitors commented about the surrounding flags, which flew straight out in the spring wind. They said the flags looked as if they had been painted that way.
National Park Service officials supervise the Washington Monument. They lead visitors to a big elevator for the ride up to the observation area at the top of the monument. During the ride, another Park Service employee tells about the history of the structure. He also tells visitors they can see all of Washington from the observation area if the weather is good.
The observation area is more than one-hundred-fifty meters high. Many people say “ooh” and “aah” as they stand at the windows. Looking north, you can see such famous places as the White House. You can also see the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Willard Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Washington. America’s sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, stayed there. To the east, you can see the Capitol building, where Congress makes laws. You can also see the Smithsonian Institution museum buildings.
The return elevator trip to the ground is equally interesting. Two sides of this elevator have windows. Through the windows you can see some of the almost two-hundred carved memorial stones on the inside walls of the monument.
Every state gave a stone to the monument. Stones also arrived from other countries. For example, one stone came from the library of Alexandria, Egypt. The Free Swiss Federation in Switzerland gave a stone that says, “To the Memory of Washington.” Japan gave a stone made from rock from a volcano.
It took many years to build the Washington Monument. America almost got a very different memorial to George Washington instead of the present one. Congress decided to pay for a statue of George Washington on a horse. The lawmakers did this even before the signing of the treaty that ended the American Revolutionary War. The statue was to show how General Washington led American troops to victory against England. However, he said he did not want the nation to spend money for the statue.
A group called the Washington National Monument Society started raising money for a memorial in Eighteen-Thirty-Three. Officials placed the first stone of the monument on July Fourth, Eighteen-Forty-Eight.
The Roman Catholic Church leader Pope Pius the Ninth gave a piece of marble from Rome for the monument. But the stone was stolen a few years later. People suspected that an American group called the Know Nothings stole the stone. Among other things, the group opposed the Roman Catholic Church.
After that, the public almost stopped giving money for the structure. Many people believed it never would be finished. Then Congress started to help pay for the monument. But, again, the Know Nothings intervened. They raided the Washington National Monument Society office. They claimed the monument was their property.
Finally, in Eighteen-Seventy-Six, Congress voted to pay for building the Washington Monument. On December Sixth, Eighteen-Eighty-Four, the monument was finished. It opened to the public four years later.
The Washington Monument is just one of many ways Americans have honored their first president. The northwest state of Washington is named for him. So are many cities, schools and streets in the United States. Thousands of children have been named George or Washington.
VOICE TWO: George Washington was born in Seventeen-Thirty-Two. His family lived in Westmoreland County, Virginia. George attended school for only about seven or eight years. He wanted to become a sailor. However, his mother would not permit this. So George became an explorer. At age twenty he became an officer in the colonial army.
In Seventeen-Fifty-Three, the colonies still belonged to Britain. Major George Washington carried a message from British colonial officials to French forces. At the time, French forces occupied the Ohio River Valley. The message ordered them to withdraw. It was a dangerous duty, and George Washington completed it well.
George Washington continued to gain responsibility in the army. However, as time passed, he became angry with the way England governed the American colonies. Taxes were high. And the colonies had no representation in the British Parliament.
The war against Britain began in Seventeen-Seventy-Five. The Americans named George Washington commander of the Revolutionary armies.
Many of his soldiers were untrained. They were poorly equipped. During one winter of the Revolutionary War, his troops almost froze to death. But General Washington led these Americans to victory. The last British troops left America in Seventeen-Eighty-Three.
After the war, George Washington strongly influenced the writing of the new Constitution. Then, in Seventeen-Eighty-Nine, the first American Electoral College met. It named him the first president of the United States. Three years later, he wanted to retire. He planned to live with his wife Martha at their home in Virginia, Mount Vernon. But others appealed to him to run for president again. The ballots were counted in Eighteen-Ninety-Three, and he was re-elected.
George Washington gave the nation a good start. He helped prevent the country from becoming a dictatorship. He prevented it from being ruled by a king. He helped establish freedom of religion.
George Washington was not perfect. He kept slaves at Mount Vernon. However, he freed all his slaves during his lifetime. He also urged the nation to end slavery in the future.
A sentence written on the wall in the Washington Monument expresses the way many Americans feel about George Washington. It says he was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.