The History of the Lincoln Memorial

The History of the Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most iconic memorials in Washington DC. Many people even come to the city just to see it for themselves. Gray Line DC has been running fantastic Washington DC tours for quite some time now, and we like to include a little bit of the kind of information in our blogs that guests can expect on our tours.  The Lincoln Memorial stands at the West End of the National Mall in Washington DC as a testament to the nation’s 16th President. This huge structure brings in elements of Greek design and handcrafted sculpting to build a memorial fit for the man himself.

When was the Lincoln Memorial Designed and Built?

While it was built over an eight-year period – between 1914–1922 — the Lincoln Memorial structure was first designed back in the late 1800s, when Congress decided to up the ante of the existing statue due to popular demand. Lincoln was a much-loved figure and the demand for a memorial more fitting of the president’s legacy was considerable. The original statue was erected in 1868, three years after the assassination of the president. But, as we said, many believed that this statue was not fitting for the President and his services to the US, so they demanded a more impressive memorial to commemorate Lincoln.

Congress complied with this request and began to enlist designers and builders for the memorial project. At this point, a fierce debate raged on as some parties believed that Lincoln would have preferred a modest log cabin memorial. The original design was chosen, but the project ran out of steam soon afterwards. However, as the charitable subscriptions needed to build, the statue did not reach the necessary amount. At the turn of the 1900s, Congress was challenged again to create another monument. After five failed bills to restart the project, the sixth finally passed in 1910. The next step in the process was for the Lincoln Memorial Commission, led by President Taft, to decide upon a site and design for the project. Each of these came with their own debates surrounding them and the issue of where to place the statue was particularly contentious.

After the plans were approved, and although they changed throughout time, the building was finally underway. The statue of Lincoln was originally intended to be 10-feet tall, but it was nearly doubled in size to 19 feet after designers expressed concerns that the statue may look small compared to the huge housing that surrounded it. The result was the huge statue we see today, and it was obviously well built and maintained as it remains in impeccable condition to this day. 

Myths and Details about the Lincoln Memorial

Many details included in the statue’s design reference and stand for a multitude of details about Lincoln’s life. Each of the names of the states within the Union at the time of his assassination are also inscribed on the top of the housing. There are also two myths surrounding the statue and its form: one myth is that Robert E Lee’s face is etched on the back of Lincoln’s head. This would face back to his home of Arlington House, which many believe would give this legend credence. The other myth surrounding the statue is the placement of Lincoln’s hands. Some believe that he is signing his initials in American Sign Language. The statue’s hands are placed in the motions for A and L but it will never be clear if this was intentional by the designer.

If you want to check these urban legends out for yourself and would like to learn even more about the Lincoln Memorial with the help of a professional guide, please join Gray Line DC for our best of Washington DC Tour or one of our many DC Monuments and Memorials tours. Come see this monument and many others with the exeprts! If you have any more questions for us, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Start planning your dream Washington DC tour with Gray Line DC!