Mount Rushmore history

The mountain has gotten its name from Charles E Rushmore, a New York lawyer and prospector who searched the mountain for minerals during the late 19th century. The history of the memorial itself started in 1923, when the historian Doane Robinson got the idea to promote tourism in South Dakota by creating a large sculpture on Mount Rushmore.

Work began

The main sculpter, Gutzon Borglum, and his 400 workers began the work on the colossal carvings in October, 1927. It was decided that the sculpture would depict four US presidents who all played major parts in the preservation and expansion of the United States.

When the carving of the sculptures started in 1927, the first on the line was the man you can see to the far left; George Washington.

George Washington

George Washington was born in 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He embarked on a career as a planter and became the owner of a fairly large estate. Through his half brother, Lawrence Washington, he got involved in the military and served during the British-French war as a militia officer.

After the war had ended, he quickly went back to the business life and his plantations. It was only after Britain forced more and more laws and acts over the colonies that George Washington got into politics. But when he did, he acquired a leading position right away as he was selected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress.

War of Independence

When the War of Independence broke out, Washington, with his military experience, his charisma and his reputation of being a strong patriot, was elected commander-in-chief for the Continental Army. Later when the war was won, he became the first United States president when he was unanimously elected in 1789. The Washington Sculpture was dedicated to the public on Independence Day, 1934.

Problems arose

Next one man to be sculptured was the man to the right of Washington; Thomas Jefferson. The Jefferson sculpture was originally placed to the left of Washington, not at its current right position. Halfway through the sculpting, Borglum discovered that the stone quality became worse the further in they came.

This eventually forced them to blast the Jefferson sculpture off and instead start again on the right side of Washington. Visitors to Mount Rushmore can see the big hole to the left of Washington, caused by the explosions.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was born in Virginia year 1743. Already at the age of nine, Jefferson began studying French, Greek and Latin. Through his college years he also studied mathematics, metaphysics and philosophy, finishing all classes with excellent grades. Thomas Jefferson was known for his diverse interests and high intelligence.

After finishing his studies, Jefferson began working as a lawyer while he at the same time became active as a Virginian politician. He protested against the new laws and acts the British rule imposed on the colonies. Jefferson argued that the colonists had the natural right to govern themselves. Soon after the outbreak of the American War of Independence, Jefferson was made responsible for creating the famous Declaration of Independence.

The declaration of Independence

The declaration of Independence is what Jefferson is most famous for. He did however have a rich political career following his declaration, where became a Virginian Governor, later Minister to France, Vice President and finally President. Jefferson died on the 4th of July 1826.

By then he could look back on his life as a large land owner, political philosopher, architect, musician, book collector, scientist, horticulturist, diplomat, inventor and third President of the United States. He is by many held as the most intelligent and intellectual US president of all times. Jefferson’s sculpture on Mount Rushmore was dedicated in 1936.

Abraham Lincoln

The next sculpture on the line was the one to the far right, the one depicting Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 on a small farm south of Hodgenville, Kentucky. He was raised in a poor home, being the son of two uneducated farmers.

Abraham himself however, quickly developed an interest in studies. While his formal education consisted of about 18 months of schooling from unofficial teachers, he still mastered the Bible, William Shakespeare’s works, English history and American history. He was very much self educated, reading every book he could get his hands on. He soon developed a plain writing and rhetorical style that puzzled audiences.

A charismatic man

This brought him into politics at the age of 23, when he became a member of the Whig party, and later elected to a term is the US House of Representatives in 1846. With his unorthodox rhetorical style he made both enemies and friends and left the politics after one term and began working as a lawyer.

He later returned to politics, and this time got a much more central role, as he won the Republican Party nomination in 1860 and was elected president the same year. Lincoln’s hatred for slavery made the already strained relation between the northern and southern states even more problematic. The civil war broke out the very next year.

American Civil War

Throughout the civil war, Lincoln was the political leader for the Union and his leadership qualities helped to preserve the Unites States to what it is today. Lincoln is most known for issuing his Emancipation Proclamation and his contribution in passing the Thirteenth Amendment which permanently abolished slavery in the US.

Death of a legend

In 1865, shortly after the war was won, Lincoln was assassinated while watching a theatre act. This made him a martyr for the ideal of national unity and he’s today one of the most famous and highly ranked of all US presidents. The sculpture of Lincoln was dedicated in 1937.

The last face sculptured

The last president, the second from the right, is Theodore Roosevelt. As the face of Roosevelt was being sculpted, Borglum and his worker had problems finding suitable rock, which forced them deeper into the mountain.

Luckily, they didn’t have to go too far before finding rock they were able to sculpt on. This is the reason why Roosevelt’s sculpt is place far behind the other three. Roosevelt’s head was dedicated in 1939.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was born into a wealthy and respect family in the mid 19th century. He studied at Harvard and gained an interest in naval affairs. After his studies, he wrote a book on the naval war against the British in 1812. He lived much of his life in New York City, but being the outdoorsman he was, he also spent time in the Badlands. Roosevelt got into politics and led the Department of the Navy but later resigned to lead a small regiment, known as the “Rough Riders”, during Spanish-American war.

Peace Prize winner

After the war, Roosevelt was awarded the Medal of Honor and elected Governor of New York and later Vice President of the United States. With the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, Roosevelt became the US President at only age 42. Roosevelt’s world stage politics can be defined by his motto “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. He was responsible for finishing the Panama Canal and negotiated an end to the Russian-Japanese war, for which he later gained the Nobel Peace Prize.

A renowned president

Roosevelt declined to run for re-election in 1908 and instead went on a long trip through Africa and Europe and later through South America. During the latter he contracted malaria which damaged his health. He died a few years later at the age of 60. Theodore Roosevelt’s achievements as a naturalist, >explorer, hunter, author, and soldier are as much a part of his fame as any office he held as a politician. He ranks as one of the greatest Presidents of the United States.

Dynamite, drills and hammers..

When constructing the sculptures, Borglum used dynamites in an innovative way, which helped remove large amounts of rocks relatively quickly and inexpensively. Around 90 percent of all removed granite was blown off using dynamite.

The more detailed work was done using drills, chisels and hammers, finished off by a special pneumatic drill which provided a smooth surface. When construction the sculptures, huge amounts of granite was removed from the mount, which is evident by the huge granite pile you can see below the memorial.

Experienced workers

The majority of the workers were experienced mountaineers, often former miners and rock climbers. This was probably one reason why not even a single worker died during the project, something rather unusual back then for a project of this size.

Completion of the memorial

With the completion of the face of Roosevelt in 1939, the memorial looked much like it does today. Borglum’s plans for Mount Rushmore did however include much more than just the faces of the presidents.

The original plan was to sculpt a massive panel next to the faces, in the shape of the Louisiana Purchase. The Louisiana Purchase was a deal between the United States and France, where France sold much of today’s central US to the newly formed country. The panel would be inscribed with gilded letters of the Declaration of Independence and other territorial acquisitions.

The Hall of Records

Borglum also wanted to create a hall into the mountain behind the memorial which would be known as “The Hall of Records” and hold much of the US history the four presidents represent.

He said; “You might as well drop a letter into the world’s postal service without an address or signature, as to send that carved mountain into history without identification.” The original plan also included sculptures of the Presidents head-to-waist, not only their faces.

An abrupt stop

However, as you can see, neither of the Presidents torsos is sculpted, only the beginning can be seen on Washington and Lincoln. Borglum’s “Hall of Records” was also started but never completed. The main reason for this is that the architect and the man who drove the project forward, Gutzon Borglum, suddenly died from an embolism in 1941.

His son Lincoln tried to continue the work, but the father’s death and the raging Second World War lead to serious funding problem which caused a halt in the construction the very same year. With this, the Mount Rushmore memorial was left as we know it today. The memorial was officially dedicated in 1991 by President George H. W. Bush.

Why visit Mount Rushmore ?

The classic Mount Rushmore National Memorial does not only show four US presidents who all played key roles in the first 150 years of the history of the United States. Today, the historian Doane Robinson’s original vision of boosting the South Dakotan tourism has become reality.

Mount Rushmore Memorial is one of the world’s largest outdoors sculptures. The memorial receives million of visitors each year and it has become a true American icon.

Striking detail

Even though the memorial is of huge proportions, much attention has been giving to detail. The irises of the eyes were sculpted as holes with a cube of granite were left inside to represent the reflection highlight.

This is why the eyes of the presidents look so alive and realistic. Visitors who have access to a binocular and take a close look at the sculpture of Roosevelt will see that even his characteristic glasses are present.

Mount Rushmore location

Mount Rushmore is located in central United States, near Keystone, South Dakota. The closest larger city is Rapid City, where one also can find the closest airport. Mount Rushmore is also easily accessed by car. Travelers on I-90 should exit at Rapid City and follow Highway 16 southwest to Keystone and then Highway 244 to Mount Rushmore.

For the exact location of Mount Rushmore, check out the location map to the right!

Mount Rushmore Video

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