Magnus C. Ihlseng, Penn State's first Professor of Mining Engineering and Geology initiated its construction. He desired to create an instructional yet artistic monument which would test the weathering qualities and commericial value of Pennsylvania's building stones. In a letter to President Atherton, after its completion, he wrote, "It exhibits many of the varieties of structural material with which Pennsylvania is endowed and reveals to the architect at a glance the possibilites of artistic combinations from our native products...Thus the column is not only picturesque but exceedingly valuable to student, visitor, and artisan." Professor Ihlseng considered the obelisk to have been the "greatest single expenditure for the year" of the college- $708.09. Read more about the history of the Obelisk.
The obelisk consists of 281 blocks of building stone from 139 different localities, mostly in Pennsylvania, and its components are arranged to represent the geologic column of the rocks of Pennsylvania, with the oldest rocks at the bottom and the youngest at the top. These stones include pre-cambrian rocks, the oldest in the state, to the youngest triassic rocks which were formed during the age of the dinosaurs. Find out details about each stone.
The Obelisk has seen the entire 20th century come and go - from horses and buggies passing just a few yards away on Allen Street, and the train to Bellefonte pulling out of the nearby railway station, to Penn Staters orbiting overhead in the space shuttle. As one of the oldest Penn State monuments on University Park Campus, the obelisk stands as a testimony to the those who have contributed to the development of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and the University as a whole. Check out the Obelisk in the days when the elms were young.