Home » The Washington Monument Elevator
At one time, the tourists visiting the Washington Monument climbed 898 steps to the reach the top. The installation of an elevator eliminated the tedious climb, allowing visitors to easily reach the top of the obelisk and enjoy views of the White House, the Capitol, the museums and monuments on the National Mall and beyond to Arlington Cemetery.
In its early days, most people used the lift to climb to the top of the monument which is equivalent to 46 stories. A large percentage used the stairs to come down. More people chose to access staircases in the month of August as the interior of the marble monument was cool during summer. Families would often camp out on the stairs or on benches near the base of the elevator to keep cool.
However, the National Park Service closed the Washington Monument’s stairs for walking up in 1971 and closed them permanently in 1976, preventing visitors from walking either up and down. Staircase access was restricted because a number of visitors experienced heart attacks while climbing up the stairs or fell while coming down.
The Park service occasionally made exceptions to the rule. For instance, special tours led by rangers took visitors past 190 carved memorial stones inside the monument. However, those tours were stopped after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit the monument in August 2011. Falling debris also damaged the monument’s internal elevator that used to ferry visitors to and from the observation level at 500 feet.
The elevator was installed new in 2001. It slows in preprogrammed areas of the monument to provide passengers with views of select areas of the monument’s interior. But with its frequency of use, it is obvious that regular maintenance is necessary to keep it going. According to an official press release, this elevator is perhaps more important to the city than any other since the Monument is a major tourist attraction and transports tourists and residents up for the best view of Washington D.C.
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