The Capping
of the Washington Monument

From the book:

A History of the
Washington, D.C.

George J. Olszewski

April 1971

Chapter V:


To complete the obelisk, the aluminum capstone weighing 100 ounces, the largest single piece of aluminum cast to that time, was placed atop the pyramidion on Saturday, December 6, 1884. Colonel Casey was elated at meeting his deadline for completion of the Washington Monument.

Prior to delivery of the capstone in Washington, it was placed on exhibit at Tiffany's in New York City where it was placed on the floor and persons could have the dubious prestige of "jumping over the top of the Washington Monument." Engraved on the four sides of the capstone was the official record of the construction of the monument.

The west face read: "Corner Stone laid on bed of foundation, July 4, 1848. First stone at height of 152 feet laid August 7, 1880. Capstone set December 6, 1884"; and the east face read "LAUS DEO." The north and south faces contained names of the commission and the key men in the work of completion. Although weather-beaten, the inscription is still visible.

The laying of the capstone was appropriately celebrated. At the top of the monument, a special scaffolding had been constructed where the principals involved with the construction of the monument could stand. As thousands of eyes were trained upward toward the pinnacle, a 60-mile-per-hour wind was blowing, and the footing was dangerous. According to S. H. Nealy's sketch of the ceremony, P. H. McLaughlin, project superintendent, placed the tip on the pyramidion as the rigger, James Hogan, released an American flag to signify the completion to the cheers of the crowd below and the booming of cannon brought from Fort Myer, Va., especially for the occasion. Also on the top platform were Bernard R. Green, civil engineer, Capt. G. W. Davis, assistant project engineer, Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey, Chief project engineer, and Lewis O'Brien, foreman.

Click for an 1884 photo of the actual capping.

Laus Deo!

On the aluminum cap atop the Washington Monument in Washington DC are two words: Laus Deo. No one can see these words. In fact, most visitors to the monument have no idea they are even there and for that matter, probably couldn't care less! But there they are 555 feet and 5.125 inches high, perched atop the monument to the father of our nation, overlooking the 69 square miles which comprise the District of Columbia, capital of the United States of America.

Laus Deo! Two seemingly insignificant, unnoticed words, out of sight and, one might think, out of mind, but very meaningfully placed at the highest point over what is the most powerful city in the world. And what might those two words, comprised of just four syllables and only seven letters, mean?

Very simply .. "Praise be to God!"

Though construction of this giant obelisk began in 1848 when James Polk was President of the United States, it was not until 1888 that the monument was inaugurated and opened to the public. It took twenty five years to finally cap the memorial with the tribute Laus Deo! Praise be to God! From atop this magnificent granite and marble structure, a visitor can take in the beautiful panoramic view of the city with its division into four major segments. And from that vantage point one can also easily see the original plan of the designer, Pierre Charles l'Enfant, a perfect cross imposed upon the landscape, with the White House to the north, the Jefferson Memorial to the south, the Capitol to the east, and the Lincoln Memorial to the west, intended to carry a meaning for those who bother to notice - Praise be to God!

Within the monument itself are 898 steps and 50 landings. As one climbs the steps and pauses at the landings the memorial stones share a message. On the 12th Landing is a prayer offered by the City of Baltimore; on the 20th is a memorial presented by some Chinese Christians; on the 24th a presentation made by Sunday School children from New York and Philadelphia quoting Proverbs 10:7, Luke 18:16 and Proverbs 22:6 - Praise be to God!

When the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was laid on July 4th, 1848 deposited within it were many items including the Holy Bible presented by the Bible Society - Praise be to God! Such was the discipline, the moral direction, the spiritual mood given by the founder and first President of our unique democracy: "One Nation, Under God."

I am awed by Washington's prayer for America. Have you never read it?

"Almighty God; We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection; that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United states at large."

"And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Laus Deo!

As you might have guessed, I kind of like the idea that our Pledge of Allegiance includes the phrase "under God." It is clear when one studies the history of our great nation that Washington's America was one of the few countries in all the world established under the guidance, direction and banner of Almighty God, to whom was given all praise, honor and worship by the great men who formed and fashioned her pivotal foundations. And when one stops to observe the inscriptions found in public places all over our nation's capitol, one will easily find the signature of God.

We are a nation under God!

Laus Deo!

Praise be to God!

"Unless the Lord builds the house its builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.
(Psalm 127: 1)

Click for an 1884 photo of the actual capping.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Go to: => TOP Page;  => US History Library;  => ROAD MAP