Washington Monument Shorter Than Previously Thought


Surveyors have determined that the Washington Monument is shorter than it has been believed to be for the past century:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Government surveyors have determined a new height for the Washington Monument that’s nearly 10 inches shorter than what has been thought for more than 130 years, officials will announce Monday.

The new measurement puts the monument at 554 feet, 7 and eleven-thirty-seconds of an inch, as measured from the floor of the main entrance to the top. Ever since the stone obelisk was completed in 1884, however, the historic height has been recorded at 555 feet, 5 and 1/8 inches. It’s a number circulated for decades on tours of the capital and in civics classes about the monument honoring the nation’s first president.

So could this be a case of an incredible shrinking monument? Has it sunk into the ground more than previously thought? No, not even close, said the chief scientist at the National Geodetic Survey, which conducted the measurement with accuracy to within one millimeter.

Modern international standards from the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat – an official guideline for building measurements – call for a different base point than what was likely used in the 1880s, said Dru Smith, chief geodesist with the National Geodetic Survey. The standard measures from the lowest open-air pedestrian entrance to the building.

“The building didn’t change height because of anything; it is just where you start from,” Smith said.

The original measurement conducted in 1884 by Lt. Col. Thomas Casey is believed to have used four brass markers as a base for measurement. Those markers remain in place 9 inches below ground off each corner of the monument. It’s possible the markers were at ground level in the past. A new plaza was installed around the monument more recently, and “it’s clear that what was ground level has changed over the years,” Smith said.

Measurements from the brass markers to the top in 1999 and 2014 essentially reconfirmed the original measurement, showing the 1884 measurement was done with “incredible accuracy.”

The only observable height change was the pyramid-shaped tip had been rounded off over time. Surveyors in 1934 also noticed the peak had been rounded and believed it was due to frequent lightning strikes that melted the aluminum tip.

“Well, this time around, we took very careful measurements,” Smith said. “We were able to determine about 3/8 of an inch had been melted off from the very top.”

That means the original 1884 measurement, completed with much less sophisticated equipment, was within 3/4 of an inch of the findings from the newest survey, using the original brass markers as a base point.

Insert your shrinkage jokes here.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. David in KC says:

    Thanks a lot, Obama.

  2. Moosebreath says:

    It’s still the country’s greatest erection (as the joke went on our high school class trip).

  3. al-Ameda says:

    So, Brian Williams has been lying to us about this too?

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    My wife has been telling me that for years.

  5. Tony W says:

    Maybe if they trim the shrubs around the base it will help?

  6. C. Clavin says:

    It’s hair is turning grey and falling out, too.

  7. John Peabody says:

    Always push the ruler in before measuring.

  8. Pinky says:

    They really have to figure out a way to make it one color. It’s just shoddy craftsmanship.

  9. Franklin says:

    Mmm, I think it’s just because it’s cold right now.

  10. Slugger says:

    This is why we need Title IX in STEM education. Men always measure things a little on the long side.

  11. rodney dill says:

    I had a long ago, back in high school or earlier, memorized the height of Mt. Everest as 29028 ft. Sometime a few years ago I saw something about the height being 29035 ft. (Maybe on Jeopardy). After googling it I found that with newer measurement capability the ‘official’ measured height had been changed. So any long held measurements are apparently fair game. (Not that I ever had the slightest interest in knowing the height of the Washington Monument, though I do now the story about the changing color a about a third of the way up.)

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    They say that people shrink as they get older. Maybe it’s true of monuments, too.

  13. Tillman says:

    @Moosebreath: Good joke, but I still maintain that’s Florida.

  14. DrDaveT says:

    @rodney dill:

    I had a long ago, back in high school or earlier, memorized the height of Mt. Everest as 29028 ft.

    Apparently it’s still up for debate.

    I learned it originally as 29,002. I was later told that this was a fudge — the original surveyor measured it as exactly 29,000 feet, but they knew nobody would treat that as a precise measurement, so they added 2 feet for ‘realism’. Apocryphal? Who knows.

  15. C. Clavin says:

    I thought Everest is still growing??? About 4mm a year.

  16. ernieyeball says:

    …the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

    Sounds godless to me. I sure Mike Huckabee will blame it on them

  17. Neil Hudelson says:

    Embarrassing day for the Masons.

  18. Swami Bhut Jolokia says:

    I want my money back from all the tours I took, time wasted waiting for the damned elevator…

  19. J-Dub says:

    They must have had women measure it this time. Guess they didn’t round up.

  20. Tyrell says:

    @Swami Bhut Jolokia: When I was young, a lot younger, we would walk up the stairs. Do they still let people do that ?

  21. Grewgills says:

    @rodney dill:
    Everest is still growing, but not that fast (~4mm a year). If you’re 50, it’s grown about 5″ since you were in HS.