NPS Logo

Historical Background

Biographical Sketches

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Suggested Reading

THE PRESIDENTS of the United States
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

National Park Service Lincoln Memorial
District of Columbia
Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial

West Potomac Park, on Lincoln Memorial Circle. just west of the Reflecting Pool and directly east of Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Potomac River, Washington.

This memorial ranks with the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial as one of the most beloved shrines in the Nation. Outstanding among the many sites and monuments honoring President Lincoln, it symbolizes his belief in the freedom and dignity of all men. The monument is also one of the most impressive examples of classical architecture in the United States.

The first major effort to commemorate Lincoln occurred on March 29, 1867, or 2 years after his death, when Congress incorporated the Lincoln Monument Association for the purpose of erecting an appropriate memorial. Despite some preliminary planning, the association failed to accomplish its objective. In subsequent years, several other organizations considered and abandoned similar projects. Finally, in February 1911, Congress created the Lincoln Memorial Commission, under whose auspices the present memorial was constructed.

Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial. (National Park Service, Boucher, 1976.)

In 1912 the commission chose a site, at the west end of the Mall in West Potomac Park on the axis of the Capitol and the Washington Monument. The next year, Congress approved a design submitted by architect Henry Bacon. Workmen broke ground in 1914 and the following year laid the cornerstone. At the dedication ceremony, on Memorial Day, May 30, 1922, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and former President William Howard Taft, who was also chairman of the Lincoln Memorial Commission, presented the structure to President Warren G. Harding, who accepted it on behalf of the people of the United States.

The memorial, constructed primarily of white Colorado-Yule marble, is of classical design and resembles the Parthenon, in Athens, Greece. The basic structure, rectangular in shape, is surrounded on all four sides by a colonnade of 36 Doric columns, one for each State at the time of Lincoln's death. Their names, separated by double wreaths of pine and laurel boughs, are carved into the frieze above the colonnade. Inscribed on the walls over the frieze are the names of the 48 States at the time of the dedication, linked together by a series of garlands broken at intervals by eagle wings. The date of admission to the Union appears in Roman numerals under the name of each State. An unusual architectural feature of the memorial is the tilting inward of the columns, the outer facade above them, and to a lesser degree the main walls to prevent an illusion, created by the size of the structure, that it is bulging at the top.

Lincoln statue
Statue in Lincoln Memorial. (National Park Service.)

A long flight of steps rising from a landscaped terrace and circular driveway leads up to the entranceway, which faces eastward toward the Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument. Two tripods, each cut from a single block of pink Tennessee marble, flank the steps; and two columns behind the colonnade support the lintels over the entrance. The interior walls of the memorial chamber are constructed of Indiana limestone; the floor and wall base, of pink Tennessee marble. The ceiling features bronze girders ornamented with laurel and oak leaves. The panels between the girders are of Alabama marble saturated with paraffin to produce translucency.

Cultural Landscape Report

Eight Ionic columns, arranged in two rows of four, divide the chamber into three sections. In the center section is the huge seated statue of Lincoln designed by sculptor Daniel C. French. It was carved over a period of 4 years from 28 blocks of Georgia white marble and rests on an oblong pedestal and plat marble. A large stone tablet inscribed with Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address adorns the wall of the north section of the chamber. A similar tablet on the wall of the south section contains the Gettysburg Address. Above each of these tablets is a mural painted by Jules Guerin. The murals, 60 feet long and 12 feet high, allegorically depict some of the principles espoused by Lincoln.

Previous Next
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2004