History of Mount Rushmore

The granite remains from the construction of Mount Rushmore are still visible below the heads of the Presidents.

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial situated in the Black Hills of South Dakota is one of the most imposing landmarks in the United States. It is a massive sculpture that was carved into the granite face of a mountain of the same name. The sculpture’s design was done by brilliant American sculptor Gutzon Borglum, and he coordinated the project from 1927 until 1941 and was aided by his child, Lincoln Borglum. 

The sculpture has the heads of four United States presidents from left to right: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The heads measure 18 meters in dimension while the park itself spreads over 1,278 acres. 

The History behind Mount Rushmore 

The history started back in 1923 when the state historian of South Dakota Jonah LeRoy ‘Doane’ Robinson came up with the idea of Mount Rushmore. He believed that such a project would lure visitors to the area while boosting tourism in South Dakota. He convinced talented sculptor Gutzon Borglum in 1924, who moved to the Black Hills area so that the carving dream could become a reality. 

Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of the memorial.

The first concept was to do the carvings in the granite pillars, referred to as the Needles. But when Borglum realized that the Needles were too fragile to offer support for the sculpture. He settled for Mount Rushmore, which was more majestic and also because it opened up the southeast where it had the highest level of exposure to sunlight. 

He also selected the area as it was seen as the most stable of all the cliffs in the area to do the sculpture work on. 

The sculptor had enough experience as he was the brain behind the Confederate Memorial Carving, the largest bas-relief sculpture globally. There were lengthy negotiations involving incumbent President Calvin Coolidge and the US Congress, and this climaxed with approval from Congress on the 3rd of March, 1925. Work started on the project in 1927 and continued until 1941, with zero records of fatalities. This implies that it took 14 years. 

After he had settled on the location to use, Borglum concluded he would do the monument for four presidents. He selected the wildly famous Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. He also selected Thomas Jefferson, who greatly expanded the United States’ size with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and Theodore Roosevelt, as suggested by President Coolidge. Coolidge had suggested that there should be a representation that included two Republicans and a minimum of one Democrat. 

Mount Rushmore before construction around 1905.

Borglum had earlier planned for each president’s sculpture to get up to their waists, but because of time and funding limitations, he could do just the heads. Work started in earnest, and about a couple hundred workers started removing material from the face of the mountain. Many of the workers were sculptors, miners, and rock climbers. They made use of chisels, explosives, and jackhammers to chip away at the rock. There was a stairway that was constructed right to the top of the mountain with ropes linked. The workers made use of harnesses connected to steel cables for safety when doing the carving work. Construction kicked off on the 4th of October, 1927. Borglum made Luigi Del Bianco, who had migrated from Italy to become the chief carver. 

George Washington

Construction on the George Washington portrait at Mount Rushmore, c. 1932.

Work started first on George Washington’s head. It took seven years before it was finished, and this was due to the economic problems at that time as a result of the Great Depression. The public dedication was done in 1934 and it had a big flag of the United States draped over it before it was officially unveiled for the public. This would later apply to the other heads too. 

Thomas Jefferson

This is placed just next to the one of Washington and it was the second one to be worked on. There had to be some blasting off done because of the poor quality of the rock. The head was then restarted to the left of Washington. Dedication of the head was done in 1936. 

Abraham Lincoln

This head was the most tasking as a result of the beard that Lincoln sported. However, the head was eventually finished on the extreme right part of the cliff. The public dedication was done on the 17th of September, 1937. It was the 150th celebration of the signing of the Constitution of the United States. 

Theodore Roosevelt

Accommodation for the tourists was done simultaneously as the construction was being done for the head of Theodore Roosevelt. The sculptors did not find good rock, so they had to cut deeper into the mountain. They overcame the considerable challenges, and the dedication for Roosevelt’s head was done on the 2nd of July, 1939. 

Mount Rushmore Today

The dream of Doane Robinson came to pass as the monument he conceived of has become one of the most popular tourist attractions not just in the United States alone but across the globe. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in October 1966, and its official dedication was done in 1991 by President George HW Bush. 

Thanks to this monument, tourism is now the second biggest industry in South Dakota, with the monument itself being the number one tourist attraction in the state. It draws millions of tourists from within and outside the United States of America every year. 

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