Since it was unveiled to the public on Memorial Day in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial has become one of the world’s best-known monuments to the 16th U.S. president and a key stop for millions of annual visitors to Washington, D.C.
Now celebrating its centennial, the memorial on the west end of the National Mall frames Henry Bacon’s Greek Revival temple to frame Daniel Chester French’s 175-ton Lincoln sculpted from Georgia marble. “Four score and seven” (87) steps take visitors from the Reflecting Pool to the statue, a number referencing the Great Emancipator’s famed Gettysburg Address.
That speech—etched into the temple’s wall, along with the Second Inaugural Address—offers a message that resonates today: a determination to end conflict and unite the country under one banner for all.
The memorial isn’t just an iconic tribute to a fallen president. It’s a significant work of art, representing a realist style rarely seen in the 1920s. French’s 19-by-19-foot Lincoln is seated, an unusual position for commemorations then, and wears a solemn expression on his face. One hand is clenched, the other relaxed.
Experts aren’t sure what French was aiming for when he sculpted his Lincoln from plaster molds and photographs. French left his work to interpretation, saying: “A statue has to speak for itself, and it seems useless to explain to everyone what it means. I have no doubt that people will read into my statue of Lincoln a great deal I did not consciously think. Whether it will be for good or ill, who can say?”
(Learn the surprising history behind the Lincoln Memorial.)
Over the decades, the memorial has meant many things to many people. It has served as a powerful backdrop for major moments in history, a symbol of resilience and resolve in difficult times, and an iconic image in treasured travel memories. These archival photos capture the Lincoln Memorial through the years.