The Zero Milestone in Washington, is based on The Roman Empire’s Golden Milestone, the Zero Milestone was originally intended to be the location from which all distances in the United States were measured. The idea originated with advocate Dr. S. M. Johnson, formally proposed on June 7, 1919. He was inspired by ancient Rome's Golden Milestone located in the Forum, a strong supporter of the Good Roads Movement, which pushed for the construction of better roads across the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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On July 7, 1919, a temporary marker for the Zero Milestone was dedicated on the Ellipse south of the White House during ceremonies launching the Army's first attempt to send a convoy of military vehicles across the country to San Francisco, California. On June 5, 1920, Congress authorized the Secretary of War to erect the current monument, design to be approved by the Commission of Fine Arts and installed at no expense to the government. Dr. Johnson took charge of the details and raised donations for the design and construction. The permanent Zero Milestone was dedicated in a ceremony on June 4, 1923.
The monument stands just south of the White House at the north edge of the Ellipse, within President's Park. A top the monument is a bronze 16-point compass rose with a very small worn-down pyramid at its center whose top serves as a National Geodetic Survey benchmark. Designed by Washington architect Horace W. Peaslee, the monolith is about 2 feet square and about 4 feet high. It is made of precambrian Milford granite from Milford, Massachusetts, light pinkish to greenish gray, with spots of black biotite mica. The bronze disk on top of the milestone is "an adaptation from ancient portolan charts of the so-called wind roses or compass roses from the points of which extended radial lines to all parts of the then known world—the prototype of the modern mariner's compass."
The Zero Milestone in Washington never became the American equivalent of Rome's Golden Milestone. Today, it remains in place, baffling tourists and serving mainly as a resting place for their belongings while they take photographs of each other standing in front of the White House. It is forgotten for the most part. Periodically, it is threatened with removal by the National Park Service as it considers options for revitalizing the Ellipse. But for historians, the Zero Milestone marks the place where "a new era" began.
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White House Christmas tree and zero milestone. Image credit Rudi Riet
Zero Milestone. Inscription on brass plate embedded on ground near the monument. Image credit Kevin Scarbery
Zero Milestone in front of the White House. On the other side it says all distances to Washington, D.C. are measured from there. Image credit spinmasterb
Zero Milestone & Washington Monument. Image credit cmfgu
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