Mount Rushmore Facts – Location, Faces, History and Presidents
Mount Rushmore Facts
The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota, in the United States. Sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of four American presidents.
Mount Rushmore’s sculptors chose these four presidents for their significance and contributions to American history: George Washington as commander-in-chief during the Revolutionary War; Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence; Theodore Roosevelt as 26th president who expanded America’s public lands and promoted civic reform; Abraham Lincoln for abolishing slavery through strong political leadership under his direction during America’s Civil War.
The Mount Rushmore National Memorial attracts nearly three million visitors annually.
From 1925 to 1934, Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers worked to create the memorial. The memorial was originally proposed in 1880 by sculptor Doane Robinson to be carved on the face of Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest mountain. After Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri declined the offer of funding for carving mountainside sculptures in stone, Robinson sought a new location for his project. After using his allotted funds to create a small model, he managed to persuade South Dakota businessman and philanthropist John Richard Ryan to put up the necessary funding ($100,000) for carving Rushmore’s granite (he had initially declined). Robinson chose Mount Rushmore as a stone carving site because it faced southeast, already had an extinct volcano on it, and offered fantastic sculpturesque features.
Workers blasted away at the mountain with dynamite from the top of Mount Rushmore. The granite heads started out as 16′ (4.9 m) high carvings that were steadily chipped away to match their final size. At times, dust storms sandblasted and ruined work that had been done. From 1927 to 1941, the memorial’s sculpture was chipped. Workers also used pneumatic drills and hammers to sculpt the heads. It took 14 years to finish the Monument.
Why Each of the Four Presidents Was Chosen
Borglum made the decision about which presidents to include on the mountain. According to the National Park Service, here’s his reasoning:
George Washington: father of the country, commander-in-chief of the army during the American Revolution (1775–83). He was elected president unanimously on April 30, 1789, and served until March 4, 1797. Washington is today considered by many historians to be one of our greatest presidents. He is honored for his strong leadership during the war for independence, for keeping his troops together through eight hard years of fighting, and for uniting a diverse group of states into a strong and successful nation following the war.
Thomas Jefferson: third president of the United States (1801–09); principal author of the Declaration of Independence; governor of Virginia (1779–81, 1784–89); and vice-president under John Adams (1797–1801). He drafted the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, providing for the administration and government of the Northwest Territory after it was ceded to Congress by the states. He was elected vice-president in 1796 as a Republican and became president in 1801 after President John Adams was defeated by Jefferson’s political ally, Thomas Pinckney.
Abraham Lincoln: sixteenth president of the United States (1861–65). He was a lawyer, Illinois state legislator (1834–40), U.S. representative (1847–49) and U.S. senator (1861–65), and leader of the Republican party before his election as president in 1860. He led the Northern states during the American Civil War (1861–65), preserving the Union despite initial defeats by Confederate forces. His Gettysburg Address of 1863 became an icon of national unity, and he is remembered for his eloquence in speeches such as his second inaugural address of 1865, appealing for harmony at a time when many were bitter about the outcome of the war and fearful that racial tensions would tear apart the nation.
Theodore Roosevelt: twenty-sixth president of the United States (1901–09). He was a leader of the Republican party, and served as assistant secretary of the navy under Benjamin Harrison; governor of New York (1899–1901), and vice president (1901). Roosevelt won the election as a Republican by a landslide in 1900. His vigorous leadership style, known as “The Strenuous Life,” appealed to many Americans; he was re-elected easily in 1904. As president, he worked to break up industrial combinations in business and to reduce the role of trusts in the American economy. He also sought to enlarge the powers of the national government by encouraging the conservation of natural resources and establishing a national parks system. In foreign affairs, Roosevelt built large modern battleships, sent the Great White Fleet on a world tour to demonstrate American sea power, and negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War.
Mount Rushmore Carving Done with Dynamite
Mount Rushmore is carved out of a 600-million-year-old rock, called granite. When they found this mountain, Gutzon Borglum was so excited about this discovery that he named the mountain Rushmore after his friend Thomas Rushmore. The granite was over 1 mile thick at the top of Mount Rushmore and it would take over 1000 workers to carve the 60-foot sculpture out of this solid rock. The Borglums decided that dynamite would be the best way to begin carving Mt. Rushmore.
When dynamite was invented in 1867 by Alfred Nobel, it was used for building tunnels and blasting rocks. Dynamite was used during the 1884-85 session of carving Mount Rushmore. Men would bring it up to the mountain on wooden sleds and transport it by mules. The dynamite was sealed in a waterproof cloth that was about one-foot square and each piece weighed about 10 pounds. It took over 1000 cases of dynamite just to carve Mount Rushmore. The Borglums, however, only used a quarter of the dynamite that they had brought up because they ran out of time.
More facts about Mount Rushmore
1. The sculpture was conceived in 1923 by sculptor Gutzon Borglum.
2. The carving took 14 years to complete, from 1927-1941.
3. The surface area encompasses more than 5 acres and is located on 6,725 acres of Black Hills National Forest land within Harlen County, South Dakota (and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966).
4. The carving depicts four U.S Presidents: George Washington (1732-1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) and Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865).
5. Mount Rushmore is 5,725 feet (1,745 meters) above sea level and 6,725 feet (2,045 meters) above the average U.S. land elevation.
6. It took 400 workers 14 years to carve and polish this monumental sculpture. The workers were paid for a hot meal and $1 a day–equivalent to about $30 in 2017 dollars, less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour!
7. It took Gutzon Borglum over 10 years to gain permission from the government to construct the monument on U.S forest land in South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest.
8. There are 21,000 square feet of carved surface on the memorial.
9. It took Gutzon Borglum over 3 years to decide how to build the monument. He considered making it a tomb and carving into the rock from all four sides of the mountain at once instead of from the front only (which is what he later did in May 1927).
10. The names carved on stone tablets within the memorial include: Henry Moore (who was once superintendent in charge of construction) and John Snyder (the stonemason who eventually undertook most of the work).
11. The faces of the presidents were Borglum’s main focus. To help him carve them, he used a device called an alidade, which was about 3 feet in length and helped him measure the width of the faces. He also used a flexible steel tape called a spider to measure distances in 10-foot sections.
11a. The final sculpture is 60% larger than life-size.
11b. Each president originally had a horse that was removed due to a lack of funding and manpower.
12. The memorial was originally supposed to portray Lincoln with two heads. This would have been impossible to finish, but Borglum hoped that Congress would continue funding the project for an additional 20 years in order to finish it (unfortunately, they did not).
12a. Gutzon Borglum came up with 10 possible designs for the Washington carving. His son, Lincoln Borglum (who was named after the first U.S president), chose design number 5.
12b. The figures were cut larger than life-size in order to ensure that they would be visible from such a distance, even when looking through binoculars.
12c. The reason the presidents were carved from head to waist instead of head to foot was because Gutzon Borglum thought it would be easier for visitors to walk between the heads than under them.
13. The Mount Rushmore sculpture weighs over 600 million pounds.
14. The memorial sits in what used to be a hole in the mountain – when it was complete, the workers dynamited a tremendous amount of rock from inside the mountain to create a space for the carving (many visitors wonder if they are standing on dynamite!).
15. Construction on Mount Rushmore began with dynamiting and excavating of a tunnel which ended at 60 feet below ground level (Mt. Rushmore is 1,100 feet tall). When this was finished, dynamiting continued from the mountain’s surface which revealed the large base for the figures. Then Gutzon Borglum sculpted the rough shape of each president’s face on the rock. The process required a total of 3,000 holes to be drilled.
16. A total of 400 workers (200 at a time) were brought in on a rotating basis to carve and polish Mount Rushmore over a 14-year period.
17. Gutzon Borglum chose Lincoln to be depicted first because he considered him to be “the most malleable.”
18 . Gutzon Borglum was 70 years old when he started to work on the Mount Rushmore project and suffered from several health issues, including an injured leg, an injured back and failing eyesight (he was eventually declared legally blind in 1930).
18a. Gutzon Borglum also suffered from a series of strokes during the carving of Mount Rushmore. He had a stroke in 1932 that left him paralyzed on his right side, but he continued as artistic director of the project until his death in 1941 (Borglum died at St. Francis Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska after suffering yet another stroke).
18b. Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum had a falling out shortly after Gutzon Borglum took over the project in 1923. Lincoln Borglum left his father’s employ, moved to Alabama and opened a granite quarry (which later shut down). He then moved back to South Dakota and lived in the Black Hills by Mount Rushmore.
18c. A series of letters were exchanged between father and son which are available online.
19. Gutzon Borglum originally planned for 32 presidents to be carved into Mt. Rushmore, but funding ran out and only four were completed (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt).
20. Mount Rushmore cost over $1 million to build in today’s dollars.
21. Gutzon Borglum originally wanted to be buried on the shoulder of Mount Rushmore, but his request was denied. Instead, he was buried at Mt. Moriah Cemetery in South Dakota. His epitaph reads: “GUTZON BORGLUM MADE THESE MOUNDS WEST OF THE DAKOTAS”