Jefferson Memorial history

Welcome to the Jefferson Memorial. The memorial is built in honor of the third president of the United States; Thomas Jefferson. While Jefferson was one of the earliest US presidents, it is not what he is most famous for.

The man behind the memorial

Thomas Jefferson was born year 1743, being the third of eight children in one of Virginia’s most respected families. Already at the age of nine, Jefferson began studying French, Greek and Latin. Through his college years he also studied mathematics, metaphysics and philosophy, finishing all classes with excellent grades.

Thomas Jefferson was known for his diverse interests and high intelligence. After his father died, Jefferson inherited a dozen of slaves and around 5,000 acres where he later would build his grand estate, the Monticello.

Political career

After finishing his studies, Jefferson began working as a lawyer while he at the same time became active as a Virginian politician. He protested against the new laws and acts the British rule imposed on the colonies.

Jefferson argued that the colonists had the natural right to govern themselves. Soon after the outbreak of the American War of Independence, Jefferson was made responsible for creating the famous Declaration of Independence.

The declaration of Independence is what Jefferson is most famous for. He did however have a rich political career following his declaration, where became a Virginian Governor, later Minister to France, Vice President and finally President. After his presidency he participated in the foundation of the University of Virginia and is widely recognized for his architectural planning of the university.

A renowned president

Jefferson died on the 4th of July 1826. By then he could look back on his life as a large land owner, political philosopher, architect, musician, book collector, scientist, horticulturist, diplomat, inventor and third President of the United States. He is by many held as the most intelligent and intellectual US president of all times.

The Jefferson Memorial

The process for building a memorial on the site began in 1925, when a design competition for a presidential monument was held. The president in question was however not Jefferson, but another famous president – Theodore Roosevelt. The winning designer was John Russell Pope, but his plans were never funded by the congress which put the project on hold.

The next time a memorial was brought on the agenda was in 1934, when an admirer of Jefferson, President Franklin Roosevelt, suggested a memorial of Thomas Jefferson to build on the site. This time the congress did accept the project and gave it 3 million dollars. The chosen architect for the project became the same one who won the design competition years ago; John Russell Pope.


The construction began in late 1930ies and stood finished 5 years later. The Jefferson Memorial was officially dedicated by President Roosevelt on April 13th, 1943, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birthday.

The project wasn’t all that popular during the construction phase. One reason was that several popular elm and cherry trees which stood on the site had been removed to make way for the new building. The Commission of Fine Arts also never actually approved any new construction on the site, which further caused controversy.

Why visit Jefferson Memorial ?

The Jefferson Monument is a remarkably beautiful building. The inside of the memorial is rather minimalistic and dominated by a large bronze statue of Jefferson himself. The statue was completed in 1947, later than scheduled, as the Second World War caused a shortage of bronze. The interior of the memorial is made of Georgia marble and limestone, which gives it its distinct white color.

The declaration

Visitors to the Jefferson Memorial will also see several inscriptions on the interior walls. These inscriptions are extracts of several famous texts written wholly or partly by Jefferson, such as “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777” and parts from letters Jefferson wrote to the leaders of the time.

Visitors can read an extract from the Declaration of Independence on the southwest wall, the one facing the back of Jefferson’s left arm.

Smooth architecture

The memorial is one of the last American monuments built in a typical neoclassicism fashion with origin in ancient Greek architecture. The architect John Russell Pope intended the design of the memorial, loosely based on the Roman Pantheon, to reflect Jefferson’s ideals of freedom, independence, and equality.

The memorial is also believed to have been inspired by one of Jefferson’s own buildings, the University of Virginia, as the two buildings copula and main entrance is very similar between. That way one can say that Jefferson contributed in the construction of his own memorial.

A stunning area

Today, the Jefferson Memorial is a popular site, both for locals and for typical tourists. While some of the cherry trees in the area were removed, the majority still stands today which creates an enchanting surrounding.

In 2007, it was ranked fourth on the “List of America’s Favorite Architecture” and the memorial is visited by millions of people each year.

Jefferson Memorial location

The Jefferson Memorial is located in eastern United States, in central Washington D.C. The memorial is situated at the south side of the Tidal Basin. For the exact location of Jefferson Memorial, check out the location map to the right!

Jefferson Memorial Video

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