In the 1930s Congress decided that Thomas Jefferson deserved a monument positioned as prominently as those honoring Washington and Lincoln. Workers scooped and moved tons of the river bottom to create dry land for the spot directly south of the White House where the monument was built. Jefferson had always admired the Pantheon in Rome, so the memorial's architect, John Russell Pope, drew on it for inspiration. His finished work was dedicated on April 13, 1943, the bicentennial of Jefferson's birth.
Early critics weren't kind to the memorial—rumor has it that it was nicknamed "Jefferson's muffin" for its domed shape. The design was called outdated and too similar to that of the Lincoln Memorial. Indeed, both statues of Jefferson and Lincoln are 19 feet, just 6 inches shorter than the statue of Freedom atop the Capitol.
The bronze statue of Jefferson, standing on a 6-foot granite pedestal, looms larger than life. It wasn't always made of bronze. The first
version was made of plaster, because bronze was too expensive and was needed for the war. The statue you see today was erected in 1947.
You can get a taste of Jefferson's keen intellect from his writings about freedom and government inscribed on the marble walls surrounding his statue.
Many people may be surprised to learn that Jefferson didn't list being president as one of his greatest accomplishments. When he appraised his own life, Jefferson wanted to be remembered as "Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia."
Check out the view of the White House from the memorial's steps—it's one of the best.
Jefferson was the second president to live in the White House, but the first full-term occupant.
Park ranger programs are offered throughout the day, and you can ask questions of the ranger on duty.
Learn more about Jefferson by visiting the exhibit called Light and Liberty on the memorial's lower level. It chronicles highlights of Jefferson's life and has a timeline of world history during his lifetime.
Allow 15 minutes to walk here from the Metro. The memorial is the southernmost of Washington's major monuments and memorials, and it's a full four blocks and a trip around the Tidal Basin from the nearest Metro stop, Smithsonian.
Limited free parking is available under the 14th Street Bridge, off Ohio Drive near where it intersects with East Basin Drive.