30 Interesting Facts About The Lincoln Memorial

facts about the Lincoln memorial

As the capital of the United States, Washington D.C. is home to several monuments and memorials commemorating its presidents. One of those memorials was built in honor of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about the Lincoln Memorial, one of the most visited monuments in Washington D.C.

Interesting facts about the Lincoln Memorial

1. What is the Lincoln Memorial?

The Lincoln Memorial is an American National moment built for Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States who led the country from 1861 to 1865.

He was successfully re-elected but was assassinated just weeks after his second inaugural speech by John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday, April 14, 1865.

His greatest achievements as president of the United States were:

  • Preserving the Union.
  • Abolishing slavery.
  • Modernizing the US economy.
  • Strengthening the federal government.
  • Leading the country through the moral, constitutional, and political crisis in the American Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln is widely considered to be one of the greatest American presidents in history, which is the exact reason a massive memorial was built in his honor.

facts about the lincoln memorial

2. When was the Lincoln Memorial built?

The assassination of the American president was a tragic event, especially because he was just re-elected and everybody was full of hope and belief in a great future for the country.

That’s why demands to erect a monument in honor of Abraham Lincoln already circulated since the time of his death. In 1867, Congress already passed one of many bills to erect a statue in honor of the 16th president, but the idea was shelved until the start of the 20th century.

A plan was finally approved on December 13, 1910, and all the paperwork completed by 1913. Construction started in 1914 and the Lincoln Memorial was officially dedicated on May 30, 1922.

Lincoln Memorial 1922
President Warren G. Harding speaking at the Lincoln Memorial dedication in 1922 / Wiki Commons

3. Where is the Lincoln Memorial located?

The Lincoln Memorial is located on the western end of the National Mall, a landscaped park that includes numerous other monuments. It’s also located north-west of the Tidal Basin where we can find the Jefferson Memorial on the southern edge of the area.

It’s located right across the Washington Monument, the iconic Obelisk dedicated to president George Washington, and the US Capitol, home of the United States Congress, and the seat of the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government.

It’s built on land that was reclaimed to form the West Potomac Park. Even though there was some contestation to the fact that this huge memorial would be built in a swampy area, plans continued on the chosen site.

Facts about the Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument in the middle and Capitol Building on top / Wiki Commons

4. The 6th bill was the right one

Under the leadership of Senator Shelby M. Cullom of Illinois, plans to erect a monument for the late Abraham Lincoln were becoming concrete. In fact, 6 separate bills were passed of which the first 5 were all rejected.

The rejected bills were posted in the years 1901, 1902, and 1908. The 6th bill which was eventually approved was passed on December 13, 1910, and is referred to as Senate Bill 9449.

One of the most interesting facts about the Lincoln Memorial is that United States President William H. Taft was chosen as the commission’s president. By 1913, Congress approved both the design and location of the Lincoln Memorial and everything was set up for construction to start.

Lincoln memorial inauguration
Chief Justice Taft, President Harding and Robert Todd Lincoln in 1922 / Wiki Commons

5. How big is the Lincoln Memorial?

Abraham Lincoln was a humble man. That’s why many believed that the scale of the memorial didn’t reflect the 16th president’s character.

Nevertheless, the plans were approved and the huge memorial in honor of Abraham Lincoln was built with the following statistics:

  • The memorial is 189.7 feet long and 118.5 feet wide (57.8 by 36.1 m).
  • It’s 99 feet (30 m) tall.
  • The concrete foundation is 44 to 66 feet (13 to 20 m) deep.
  • The foundation is encompassed by a 187-by-257-foot (57 by 78 m) rectangular granite retaining wall.
  • The retaining wall is 14 feet (4.3 m) in height.

The main steps into the building are on the east side and start right at the edge of the reflecting pool.

Lincoln Memorial steps

6. The architectural style of the Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln memorial resembles a classic Greep Temple and is build with Yule marble that was quarried in Colorado. Yule marble is a metamorphosed limestone that can only be found in the Yule Creek Valley in Colorado.

The main chambers of the building are surrounded by 36 Doric Columns that represent the 36 United States in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death.

Each column stands 44 feet (13 m) tall and has a base diameter of 7.5 feet (2.3 m). Above the colonnades, the friezes have the names of all 36 states inscribed along with the date they entered the Union.

Lincoln memorial states
Detail of the Memorial’s friezes with the States and their join date carved into them / Source

7. Facts about the interior of the Lincoln Memorial

The inside of the building consists of 3 chambers which are flanked by 2 rows of 4 Ionic Columns. Each of the columns is 50 feet (15 m) tall and 5.5 feet (1.7 m) apart from each other at their base.

The central chamber houses the statue of Abraham Lincoln and the north and south chamber have inscriptions of Lincoln’s second inaugural address and his Gettysburg Address.

The central chamber is 60 feet wide and 74 feet deep, while the north and south chambers are 38 feet wide and 63 feet deep. All chambers are 60 feet high from floor to ceiling.

Lincoln Memorial interior columns
Lincoln Memorial interior columns / Source

8. Facts about the Lincoln Memorial statue

One of the most recognizable statues in the world is that of Abraham Lincoln, sitting in a chair in deep contemplation. It is located in the central chamber of the Lincoln Memorial.

The main sculptor was Daniel Chester French, one of the most renowned American sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. he was assisted by the Piccirilli Brothers in its construction, experienced marble carvers.

Some stats about the statue of Abraham Lincoln:

  • It took 4 years to complete the statue.
  • It weighs 175 short tons (153 tons).
  • It was carved from Georgia white marble.
  • It was shipped to Washington D.C. in 28 pieces.
  • The pedestal is 10 feet (3.0 m) high, 16 feet (4.9 m) wide, and 17 feet (5.2 m) deep.
  • Beneath the pedestal, there’s a platform of Tennessee marble 34.5 feet (10.5 m) long, 28 feet (8.5 m) wide, and 6.5 inches (0.17 m) high.
  • The statue is 19 feet (5.8 m) tall from head to foot.

The statue of Abraham Lincoln is bordered by 2 pilasters and above his head, an epitaph written by Royal Cortissoz is engraved which reads:

IN THIS TEMPLE
AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE
FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION
THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER

Abraham Lincoln Statue

9. Facts about the history of the Lincoln Memorial

Abraham Lincoln was the president that issued an executive order known as the “Emancipation Proclamation.” This order that officially came into effect on January 1, 1863, effectively changed the legal status of over 3.5 million African American slaves as they became free men, women, and children.

For this reason, the Lincoln Memorial is more than just a monument honoring the 16th American President. It has a symbolic meaning and became a sacred place for the Civil Rights Movement and freedom fighters.

One of the most memorable moments in American history took place at the Lincoln Memorial. On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech which was witnessed by over 250,000 people who gathered at the memorial grounds.

Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial during his speech / Wiki Commons

More interesting facts about the Lincoln Memorial

10. The architect of the Lincoln Memorial was Henry Bacon, an American Beaux-Arts architect. The Lincoln Memorial, for which he is best known, was his final project.

11. The Lincoln Memorial has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since October 15, 1966.

12. The area the Lincoln Memorial is part of a reclaimed land area which is connected to the Tidal basin reservoir. The total land area is 27,336 square feet (2,539.6 square meters).

Future site of the Memorial in 1912
Future site of the Memorial in 1912 with the Tidal Basin to the left / Wiki Commons

13. If it wasn’t for the fact that there wasn’t enough budget, there would have been a monument in honor of Abraham Lincoln much earlier. Back in 1867, a bill was passed to erect a national memorial in honor of the 16th president and American sculptor Clark Mills was chosen to design the monument.

14. The project submitted by Clark Mills was beyond all proportions and clearly reflected the nationalistic mindset of the time. It included a 70-foot (21 m) structure adorned with six equestrian and 31 pedestrian statues of colossal proportions, crowned by a 12-foot (3.7 m) statue of Abraham Lincoln.

15. Even though the project was approved in 1913, there was significant opposition for both the design, which was too extravagant for the humble Lincoln and the location of the memorial, which would be built in a swampy area. A proposal to create a simple log cabin shrine was rejected and the enormous classic Greek Temple was built.

Lincoln Memorial Facts

16. The main opponent of the design and location was Speaker of the House Joe Cannon. Abraham Lincoln was his hero and he felt that the swamp a memorial honoring him would be built in was unworthy for the great man.

17. Joe Cannon almost succeeded and his alternative plan to move the memorial to the Washington railway station which was opened in 1907 was even approved by American President Theodore Roosevelt. The American Institute of Architects, however, ensured the president to change his mind again and plans continued as they were laid out initially.

18. The budget for the construction of the Lincoln Memorial was $300,000, which is about $7.8 million in 2020 if we calculate inflation since 1914.

19. The original statue of Abraham Lincoln would have been much smaller than the final version. It was only supposed to be 10 feet (3.0 m) tall but it was enlarged to 19 feet (5.8 m) tall. That was because the original version would have made the statue appear rather small in a huge room as the central chamber of the Lincoln Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial Statue

20. The marble carvers who are known as the Piccirilli Brothers were Italian and injected some Roman influences into the statue of Abraham Lincoln. The pillars on which his arms rest are known as “fasces,” which are nothing more than bundles of wooden rods that represented power in ancient Rome.

21. Did the architects and designers know that “fasces” is actually where the word “fascism” is derived from? We seriously doubt it as any reference to fascism is basically the complete opposite of what Abraham Lincoln stood for and would never have been allowed.

22. A competitor for Henry Bacon, the architect of the Lincoln Memorial, was the architect of the Jefferson memorial, John Russell Pope. He saw his chance when the design of Bacon received opposition and submitted some plans himself. Amongst his ideas were a traditional Mayan temple, a Mesopotamian ziggurat, and an Egyptian pyramid.

23. The undercroft of the Lincoln Memorial, which consists of 40% of the entire structure, was open to tours in the 1970s and 1980s but they got canceled when a visitor noticed asbestos in 1989. Because of water seeping through, over time stalactites and stalagmites have formed within the undercroft.

24. American businessman and investor David Rubenstein is funding a project for rehabilitating the Lincoln Memorial which would allow visitors to get a glimpse again of the undercroft, and the remarkable stalactites and stalagmites that have been formed over the decades. The idea is to get the project ready for the memorial’s centennial in 2022.

25. The sculptor who created the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Statue, Daniel Chester French, actually already created a statue of Lincoln 2 years earlier. This statue depicts Lincoln standing upright, stands 8.67 feet (2.64 m) tall, was unveiled in 1912 and is located in Lincoln, Nebraska. The statue is known as “The Gettysburg Lincoln.”

Statue in Lincoln, Nebraska / http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

26. The only son of Abraham Lincoln that was still alive, Robert Todd Lincoln, was present during the unveiling of the Memorial dedicated to his father on May 30, 1922. He was 78 years old at the time and apart from the unveiling, he also visited its construction frequently.

27. There have been two suggestions regarding the statue of Abraham Lincoln. One is whether or not the face of General Robert E. Lee is carved onto the back of Lincoln’s head. The answer is a resounding No. The second is whether or not Abraham Lincoln is making the American Sign Language (ASL) signs for his initials. This one is up for debate.

28. There’s a typo on one of the walls inside the Lincoln memorial. The word “Future,” which was included in Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, a speech that he originally delivered in March 1865, is written as “Euture.”

Lincoln Memorial Typo
Lincoln Memorial Typo / Source

29. The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most noticeable monuments in America. For this reason, it has been featured in over 60 films, with one of the most memorable moments being Tom Hanks given a speech in front of the Memorial facing the reflecting pool as “Forrest Gump.” Watch this epic moment here:

30. On the exact location on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his memorable “I have a dream” speech, there’s a placard commemorating this moment.

I have a dream placard

This concludes the ultimate list of facts about the Lincoln memorial. Do you know some more facts? Let us know and we’ll add them to the list right away!

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