The Lincoln Memorial

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11849

What president is small enough to fit on a penny, yet can keep an eye on the National Mall? Abraham Lincoln was a big man who has a bigger monument. At least he's sitting down! Take a virtual tour!


United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5), Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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What U.S. president keeps watch over the National Mall?

In the first four lessons of this series, Let's Explore Washington, D.C.!, you learned about places in Washington, D.C., that house the different branches of government.

If you missed one or more of the previous lessons, you can catch up in the right-hand sidebar under Related Lessons.

Now, you will begin learning about and exploring some of the most important monuments in Washington, D.C. Many former presidents have monuments dedicated to their legacy in the nation's capital, but there is one president who watches over the entire National Mall! The Lincoln Memorial sits opposite the Capitol building, and the 19-foot-tall Abraham Lincoln that sits inside sees all that happens on the Mall.

In 1867, two years after Lincoln's assassination, Congress received its first request to build a statue in honor of Abraham Lincoln. The following year, a statue of Lincoln was erected in front of City Hall in Washington, D.C. As soon as the statue was raised, Congress began receiving requests for a bigger and better memorial in honor of the president who had ended slavery in the United States. Finally, in 1910, Congress approved a bigger memorial and created the Lincoln Memorial Commission to develop a design and oversee construction of the memorial.

The Lincoln Memorial Commission spent nearly three years selecting the location and developing the design. The Commission decided to locate the memorial at Potomac Park, an open area on the opposite end of the National Mall from the Capitol building. The site had already been designed as a location for a monument or memorial that was comparable in size and structure to the other buildings around the National Mall.

The design of the memorial sparked some debate. Henry Bacon, the lead architect on the project, drafted a design incorporating the elements of a Greek temple. While it is difficult for most Americans today to picture the Lincoln Memorial without these Greek influences, the design made many on the Lincoln Memorial Commission unhappy. Many felt the design was too extravagant for a man who was known as being incredibly humble. Some even suggested that the memorial should resemble a log cabin, a connection to Lincoln's upbringing in Kentucky. Ultimately, Bacon's Greek temple design won because it was consistent with the other prominent buildings that already existed in D.C.

Construction on the memorial began in 1913. Construction was slowed in 1917 when the United States entered World War I, but it never stopped. Despite the war, the memorial was completed on time. On May 30, 1922, President Warren Harding accepted the Lincoln Memorial on behalf of the American people. Since then, it has remained one of the most-visited attractions in Washington.

The Lincoln Memorial is truly a sight to behold. Initially, the statue of Lincoln was only supposed to be 10 feet tall, but it was enlarged to 19 feet tall so the statue was not overshadowed by the massive room in which it was placed. It took artists four years to carve the marble statue. Surrounding Lincoln are some of his most memorable words. Lincoln's second inaugural address and the Gettysburg address are carved into the marble walls. Above Lincoln, there is the following inscription:

Lincoln Memorial inscription

Discuss with your teacher or parent what you think the meaning of these words is and why they were used. Then, move on to the Got It? section to take a virtual field trip to the Lincoln Memorial.

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