Lincoln Memorial Builders

Henry Bacon

Henry Bacon was the New York architect who designed the Lincoln Memorial, which stands at the west end of the National Mall as a neoclassical tribute to the 16th President of the United States. The construction of the memorial took eight years to complete, from 1914-1922.

Bacon had spent several years of study in Europe and had grown very fond of the architecture found in ancient Greece. He decided to incorporate that style into his design for the Lincoln Memorial. His true inspiration was the Athenian temple known as the Parthenon. What better way existed to remember a man who struggled to defend democracy, than to model his tribute after one found in the birthplace of democracy?

Bacon insisted on using a variety of stones in the construction of the memorial. The granite at the terrace level came from Massachusetts, the marble of the upper steps and outside façade came from Colorado, while the pink marble floor of the chamber came from Tennessee. One will notice the Indiana limestone on the interior walls and columns of the chamber, and the Alabama marble used for the ceiling tiles (soaked in paraffin to give them a translucent appearance). The statue of Lincoln was carved from Georgia marble. These stones from several parts of the United States, symbolize the importance of the Union to Lincoln.

Man in art studio working on bust of statue with statue of man sitting in chair behind him
Daniel Chester French in his Studio

National Archives

Daniel Chester French

The nineteen-foot tall statue of Abraham Lincoln emerged from the design of Massachusetts sculptor Daniel Chester French whose attention to detail, accuracy, and composition created a masterpiece. French devoted considerable effort toward depicting Lincoln during the midst of war. He viewed photographs, read eyewitness descriptions, and studied Leonard Volk’s 1860 castings of Lincoln’s hands, then sculpted several models until he rendered a perfected final product.

As visitors climb the marble steps, pass marble columns, and enter the chamber of the Lincoln Memorial, they are awestruck by Daniel Chester French’s enormous marble statue of Abraham Lincoln. To what part of the Georgia marble figure is the eye drawn first? Possibly, the serious look on Lincoln’s face will remind the visitor of the critical time of Civil War through which the president guided our nation. Maybe the reeds wrapped together in the arms of Lincoln’s chair will prompt the visitor to remember the way that Lincoln wanted to keep us bound together as one nation.

Carl Sandburg, one of America’s great authors and one of Abraham Lincoln’s well known biographers, described Mr. Lincoln as someone made up of both “steel and velvet.” The statue hands that Daniel Chester French carved seem to reflect Mr. Sandburg’s portrayal. Lincoln’s left hand is clenched in a manner depicting determination. Lincoln was determined to fight the war to its end in spite of the ongoing bloodshed. Lincoln’s right hand is open and relaxed. When the war was over, Lincoln wanted to bring the Southern states back into the Union in a peaceful way without looking for revenge.

Among Washington, D.C.’s numerous Daniel Chester French sculptures, the figure of Lincoln certainly stands out. In it, French conveyed great things through simple, well-executed, and careful composition.


Jules Guerin

The artist that architect Henry Bacon hired to create watercolor illustrations of his proposed Lincoln Memorial architectural and landscape concepts. Born in St Louis, Missouri a year after the end of the Civil War, Guerin later studied art in Chicago and Europe. Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he exhibited his work at many of the great celebratory expositions such as the 1901 Pan American in Buffalo, New York and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase in St. Louis.

As the memorial emerged, Bacon selected Guerin to decorate the Lincoln Memorial interior with two canvas murals, each 60 feet long by 12 feet high, and weighing 600 pounds. Together, the murals visually symbolize the resounding principles of Abraham Lincoln. These allegorical renderings also emphasize the two great accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency—Emancipation and Unity.

“Emancipation”, above the Gettysburg Address on the south wall, represents Freedom and Liberty. The central panel shows the Angel of Truth releasing slaves from the shackles of bondage. The left panel of the mural represents Justice and Law. The right panel represents Immortality. Surrounding the central figure are Faith, Hope, and Charity.

“Unity”, above the Second Inaugural Address on the north wall features the Angel of Truth joining the hands of two figures representing the North and South. Her protective wings cradle the arts of Painting, Philosophy, Music, Architecture, Chemistry, Literature, and Sculpture. Emerging from behind the music figure is a veiled image of the Future. The left group represents Fraternity while the right group represents Charity. On the Unity mural, the fourth figure from the left of the Angel of Truth is the head of Lincoln Memorial architect Henry Bacon.


Ernest C. Bairstow

The Washington, D.C. architectural sculptor who completed the carving of the exquisite Lincoln Memorial exterior details such as the states, wreathes, festoons, and eagles. The memorial interior also features Bairstow’s handiwork in the lettering for the Gettysburg Address, the Second Inaugural Address, and the Royal Cortissoz epithet above the Lincoln statue.


Evelyn Beatrice Longman

Just like Abraham Lincoln himself, Longman was born poor in a log cabin. She was a protégé of Lincoln statue sculptor Daniel Chester French, but rose to become a skilled artist and sculptor in her own right. She completed all of the Lincoln Memorial interior decorative carvings surrounding the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address.

Men working on statue being assembled utilizing rope and pulley system to put pieces of it together
Piccirilli Brothers on Lincoln Statue

National Archives

Piccirilli Brothers

The six brothers worked with their father to create New York’s premier marble cutting workshop. Daniel Chester French engaged their services in 1918 to bring his Lincoln statue to fruition. In their New York studio, the brothers transformed 28 blocks of white Georgia marble into intricately carved pieces that French himself perfected. Their collective efforts turned out such superior results that the pieces fit together with nearly invisible seams. The brothers also carved the tripods flanking the exterior steps on the east side.


Royal Cortissoz

The New York Herald Tribune art critic, author, lecturer, and columnist who drafted the wall inscription that appears above the Lincoln Statue. His words greet the millions of annual memorial visitors and remind them that, “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” Several individuals sought to improve the wording of the inscription before the carving occurred, but no one could state the fact more succinctly or accurately. Cortissoz himself apparently regarded the inscription as his proudest accomplishment.

Last updated: November 18, 2021

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