National Mall and Memorial Parks | LINCOLN MEMORIAL

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial is situated at the very western end of the National Mall. It was authorized by Congress in 1867, just two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Sculptor Clark Mills was hired to design the memorial, but funding fell through and the project died. Interest was renewed in 1901, but bill after bill authorizing a new design commission was shot down by Congress. It wasn’t until 1910 that a bill for the creation of a Memorial Committee was finally passed and work on what would become the Lincoln Memorial commenced.

Abraham Lincoln sculpture at the Lincoln Memorial

Abraham Lincoln sculpture at the Lincoln Memorial

The spot chosen for the memorial was the newly created West Potomac Park. Architect Henry Bacon was hired to head the project. Inspired by the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, his plan called for a massive temple surrounding a statue of Lincoln, a design many felt was too grand for such a humble man. Nevertheless, the plan was approved and construction began in February 1914; it was ready for dedication on May 30, 1922. Robert Todd Lincoln, the only living son of the former president, was in attendance at the dedication ceremony.

Front view of the Lincoln Memorial

Front view of the Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial building is made from a variety of rock materials. The terrace is granite; the upper stairs, outer walls, and floor inside the building are marble; and the interior walls and columns are limestone. Thirty-six marble columns line the perimeter of the structure, one for each of the states at the time of the Civil War.

Southwest view of the Lincoln Memorial

Southwest view of the Lincoln Memorial

The famous sculpture of Lincoln was designed by Daniel Chester French. It was originally supposed to be only ten feet tall, but due to the enormity of the temple surrounding it, the size was increased to nineteen feet so it would not be overwhelmed. The Piccirilli Brothers, who had carved many statues and monuments in the northeast including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, were hired to do the actually carving, and all work was done at their Brooklyn, New York, studio. Twenty-eight blocks of marble were used, but the pieces fit together so perfectly that the statue appears to be a single chunk of carved stone. Above Lincoln’s head is an inscription coined by Royal Cortissoz, a New York Herald Tribune art critic and author.

Sculpture of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial

Sculpture of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial

Many artists worked on the memorial. Jules Guerin was hired to create two 60-foot by 12-foot oil painting on canvas located at the top of the north and south interior walls. A system that blows warm air onto the backs of the paintings to keep the humidity low was installed with the original building. Even so, they must be restored about every thirty years. These allegorical works of art depict Emancipation, which is located at the top of the south wall above the engraved excerpt from the Gettysburg Address, and Unity, located on the north wall above the excerpt from Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address. Evelyn Longman, an associate of French’s, did the decorative engravings around the inscriptions. The inscriptions themselves were engraved by Ernest C. Bairstow, who also carved many of the exterior sculptures.

Partial view of the painting on the north wall of the Lincoln Memorial

Partial view of the painting on the north wall of the Lincoln Memorial

Complete painting on the north wall

Complete painting on the north wall (click to enlarge)

Almost as famous as the Lincoln Memorial itself is the Reflecting Pool that runs from the base of the memorial stairs to the World War II Memorial situated along 17th Street. Construction on this 2,029-foot long pool began shortly after the memorial was dedicated in 1922, and it was completed in 1923. It received a major overhaul between 2011-2012, with one significant improvement being that it is no longer filled with stagnate water, but water from the Tidal Basin that is replenished daily.

View of the Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool from the Lincoln Memorial

View of the Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool from the Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial has been the scene of many historical gatherings and protests, the most famous being the August 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech from the eighteenth step below the Lincoln statue. In 2003, this spot was engraved with a memorial inscription to the event.

Spot from where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech (photos by ehpien)

Spot from where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech (photo by ehpien)

A small book and souvenir store is located inside the memorial, and restrooms can be found outside at ground level on either side of the stairs.

Book and souvenir store at the Lincoln Memorial

Book and souvenir store at the Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial is open year-round, 24 hours a day, and at night it is illuminated. Except for Christmas day, park Rangers are on hand from 9:30 AM to 10 PM to answer questions. The National Park Service offers daily programs that rotate throughout the memorials on the Mall. To find out what sort of activities are going on when you visit, see the National Park Service’s Calendar web page for the National Mall and Memorial Parks.

Lincoln Memorial at night

Lincoln Memorial at night

Back to the Top


Last updated on April 26, 2020
Share this article