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Washington Monument Built on Perseverance

In 1836, the fledgling Washington National Monument Society announced they had chosen Robert Mills' plans for the soon-to-be-constructed monument to the nation's first president. Mills had slaved for months over the elaborate drawings, and he had dared to dream big—a granite obelisk soaring 555 feet high. It would be no less than the tallest structure in the world.

But the funds didn't come in as fast as the society had hoped. Construction wasn't able to begin until a full twelve years later. Then the engineers discovered the ground at the site was too soft to support the weight of the huge monument, so they had to start over farther north.

Work proceeded smoothly for six years, and major figures began donating marble to the project. But in 1854, when Pope Pius IX donated a marble block from the Temple of Concord, a group of saboteurs stole the block and destroyed it. The incident shocked the public, and donations nearly stopped.

Then members of the Know-Nothing political party broke into the society's offices and actually seized possession of the monument. Vandals continued to deface the monument, and construction finally stopped dead in 1855.

What remained of Mills's soaring dream was a squat, ugly, 150-foot stump. Robert Mills died that year.

But his vision would not die. 25 years after his death, 50 years after Mills' dream began, work resumed. Four years later a cast-aluminum cap was placed over the granite tip. Today Mills' monument stands as the tallest masonry structure in the world, and last year, over a million people came to see the realization of his dream.

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