11 Structures that Define America

By: the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.  | 
Image Gallery: The U.S. Flag Structures throughout the country celebrate America's freedom.
© Washington DC Convention and Tourism Bureau

The ­United States has a penchant for building. As such, there are nu­merous buildings and other structures that represent the freedom an­d opportunity expressed in the American dream. Here are a few of those defining monuments.

On the following pages, you can explore our list of structures that define America, including the from the Golden Gate Bridge and St. Louis Arch to the famous monuments of Washington, D.C.


11. World Trade Center

world trade center
world trade center,new york Michael Godek / Getty Images

A list of some of the nation's iconic structures would be incomplete without mentioning the 110-story Twin Towers and five smaller buildings of the World Trade Center in New York City, which were destroyed by a terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.

The Twin Towers, which were located in lower Manhattan, opened in 1973. Tower One was 1,368 feet tall, and Tower Two was 1,362 feet tall. Of the approximately 50,000 people who worked in the 13.4 million square foot complex, 3,000 died when hijackers slammed two passenger jets into the buildings' upper floors on that fateful day. Construction is underway to rebuild the World Trade Center complex, with an expected completion date in 2012.


10. Lincoln Memorial

lincoln memorial
Lincoln Memorial before DawnWashington D.C.More Washington DC images yenwen / Getty Images

"In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever." Beneath these words rests the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Designed by architect Henry Bacon, sculptor Daniel Chester French, and artist Jules Guerin, the monument was completed in 1922 to honor the sixteenth president of the United States. The structure resembles a Greek Doric temple ringed by 36 columns, each representing a state in the Union at the time of Lincoln's death. Seated within the monument is a sculpture of Lincoln, and inscriptions from both the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address adorn the south and north walls, respectively. The Lincoln Memorial served as the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous, "I Have a Dream" speech on August 28, 1963.


9. The White House

the white house
The White house in Washington D.C. Home of the president of the United States seen from the garden side. Lingbeek / Getty Images

The history of the White House began when President George Washington and city planner Pierre L'Enfant chose the site for the presidential residence, now listed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Irish-born architect James Hoban's design was chosen in a competition to find a builder of the "President's House." Construction began in October 1792. Although Washington oversaw the building of the house, he never lived in it. When the White House was completed in 1800, President John Adams and his wife, Abigail, moved in as the first residents. Since then, each president has made his own changes and additions. It survived a fire at the hands of the British in 1814 during the War of 1812 and another blaze in the West Wing in 1929 when Herbert Hoover was president. President Harry Truman gutted and renovated the building during his time there. Encompassing approximately 55,000 square feet, the White House has 132 rooms, including 35 bathrooms and 16 family and guest rooms. It is the world's only private residence of a head of state that is open to the public.


8. Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., honors the men and women who served in the Vietnam conflict, one of America's most divisive wars. The memorial was intended to heal the nation's emotional wounds and was designed to be neutral about the war itself. Three components comprise the memorial: the Wall of Names, the Three Servicemen Statue and Flagpole, and the Vietnam Women's Memorial. The Wall was built in 1982 and designed by 21-year-old Maya Lin, who submitted the winning sketch. Visitors descend a path along two walls of black granite with one wing pointing at the Washington Monument a mile away and the other at the Lincoln Memorial about 600 feet away. When viewed closely, the names of the more than 59,000 soldiers killed or missing in action dominate the structure.


7. Washington Monument

Night reflection of famous monument, a must-see travel destination.
The National Park Service calls the original design plan “audacious, ambitious, and expensive,” which explains why all but the obelisk was eventually scrapped. Enzo Figueres/Getty Images

The Washington Monument, a 555-foot-high white obelisk situated at the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., honors George Washington as the first president of the United States and a Revolutionary War hero. Comprised of 36,491 marble, granite, and sandstone blocks, the structure was designed by Robert Mills, a prominent American architect. Construction began in 1848, but due to the outbreak of the Civil War and lack of funding, it took nearly 40 years to complete. It is clearly visible where work resumed in 1876 by the difference in the marble's shading, about 150 feet up the obelisk. The monument was dedicated in 1885, on Washington's birthday, February 22, but did not officially open to the public until October 9, 1888, after the internal construction was complete. At the time it was the world's tallest structure, a title it held only until 1889, when the Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris.


6. Golden Gate Bridge

golden gate bridge
golden gate bridge RICOWde / Getty Images

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, named for the Golden Gate Strait, which it spans, was the vision of chief engineer Joseph B. Strauss, who was told by contemporaries that such a bridge could not be built. Nevertheless, construction began on January 5, 1933. Nearly four and a half years, $35 million, and 11 worker fatalities later, the bridge was finally opened to an estimated 200,000 pedestrians on May 27, 1937, and to vehicles the next day. The bridge is 1.7 miles long and 90 feet wide. The suspension span was the longest in the world until New York City's Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened in 1964. The bridge has two principal cables passing over the tops of the two main towers. If laid end to end, the total length of wire in both main cables would total 80,000 miles. The Golden Gate Bridge is painted "International Orange," making it more visible to ships and the 38 million vehicles that cross it annually in the lingering and persistent fog.


5. Sears Tower

sears tower
silhouette of sears tower Travelpix Ltd / Getty Images

In 1969, retail giant Sears, Roebuck and Company wanted to consolidate its employees working in offices around the Chicago area. Designed by chief architect Bruce Graham and structural engineer Fazlur Khan of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill architects, construction on Chicago's Sears Tower began in 1970. The colossal structure opened in 1973, making it the world's tallest building. In 1998, it was surpassed by the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, but it is still the tallest building in the United States. With 110 stories, the distance to the roof is 1,450 feet 7 inches. However, in 1982, two television antennas were added, increasing its total height to 1,707 feet. To improve broadcast reception, the western antenna was extended in 2000, bringing the total height to 1,725 feet. The Skydeck observatory on the 103rd floor can be reached in 45 seconds by an express elevator. At 1,353 feet, sightseers can see Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin on a clear day.


4. St. Louis Arch

st.louise arch
st.louise arch Jeremy Woodhouse / Getty Images

The St. Louis Arch on the bank of the Mississippi River marks the city as the "Gateway to the West." Thomas Jefferson's vision of freedom and democracy spreading from "sea to shining sea" inspired architect Eero Saarinen's contemporary design for a 630-foot stainless steel memorial. Construction began in 1963 and was completed on October 28, 1965. The Arch's foundation is set 60 feet into the ground and is built to withstand earthquakes and high winds. A 40-passenger train takes sightseers from the lobby to the observation platform, where on a clear day the view stretches for 30 miles.


3. Brooklyn Bridge

booklyn bridge
the brooklyn bridge Silvia Otte / Getty Images

Every day, thousands of commuters cross the East River via the Brooklyn Bridge. And they have John A. Roebling and his son, Washington, to thank. In 1867, the elder Roebling was hired as chief engineer to build "the greatest bridge in existence." But he died in 1869 before construction began. His son, Washington, stepped in and construction finally began on the 5,989-foot-long structure in January 1870. The 85-foot-wide bridge was the first steel wire suspension bridge and the largest suspension bridge in the world at the time. On May 24, 1883, the bridge opened to the public, carrying pedestrians, livestock, horse-drawn vehicles, and trolley cars between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The pedestrian toll that day was a penny but was raised to three cents the next morning. Today, the bridge carries upwards of 144,000 vehicles a day in six lanes of traffic. About 2,000 pedestrians and hundreds of bicyclists also cross the bridge's 1.14 miles each workday.


2. The Empire State Building

the empire state building
New York, NY, United States with the empire state building. Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

The Empire State Building is the crown jewel of the New York City skyline. Designed by William Lamb, the art deco structure was the world's tallest building when it opened in 1931, soaring 1,454 feet from the ground to the top of its lightning rod. More than 3,000 workers took less than 14 months to build the structure, with the framework erected at a pace of 4.5 stories per week. Today, visitors still marvel at the breathtaking views visible from the observatory, which on a clear day offers glimpses of the five surrounding states.

1. The Statue of Liberty

the statue of liberty
Statue of Liberty - front view form Hudson river antoniodibacco / Getty Images

The Statue of Liberty is perhaps the most enduring symbol of America and has become a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. Located on a 12-acre island in New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty was a friendly gesture from the people of France to the people of the United States. The statue, designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, was dedicated on October 28, 1886, designated a national monument in 1924, and underwent a face-lift for its centennial in 1986. Lady Liberty stands 305 feet 1 inch high, from the ground to the tip of her torch.


Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen

Lots More Information

Related Articles