Peaking through the rolling pines of the Black Hills is the famous faces of South Dakota. The four presidents of Mount Rushmore have gazed across the treetops for over 75 years bringing awe to all that have come across them. Carving faces into the side of a mountain was no easy feat. The arduous journey took 14 years, a team of nearly 400 men and women, and one determined sculptor to complete.
Before the Presidents
In 1884, Charles E. Rushmore, a lawyer from New York, traveled to the Black Hills of South Dakota to inspect mining claims in the area. While scouting the area he asked a local man the name of a nearby mountain. The man claimed that it was called Slaughterhouse Rock, but it could be changed. And Mount Rushmore was born.
In the early 1920s, South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson was seeking to attract tourism to the Black Hills. His idea was to sculpt the natural granite pillars (known as “the Needles”) into the shape of famous Sioux chief, Red Cloud. In 1924, Robinson contacted Gutzon Borglum, a renowned sculptor. Borglum suggested that there be two subjects, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The subject of American presidents would attract more national interest and boost tourism as Robinson wanted. Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson were later added for their contributions in growing the United States.
After visiting the Black Hills in 1925, Borglum expressed interest in Mount Rushmore as the location for the sculpture. Too many people had opposed the idea of tampering with the natural beauty of the Needles and Borglum felt that the formation would give the design a totem pole feel. After all was considered, the location was changed to Mount Rushmore.
Sculpting the Mountain
On October 4, 1927 work began on Mount Rushmore. It took Borglum and a team of 400 workers 14 years to complete the faces. They removed around 450,000 tons of rock from the mountainside through blasting and chiseling. Despite dangerous working conditions, no lives were lost in the carving of the monument. However, Gutzon Borglum passed away in March 1941 before the sculpting was completed. He handed the designs to his son, Abraham, to complete the final details. Work continued and the “Shrine to Democracy” was finally finished in October 1941.
Mount Rushmore Today
In the year after its completion, the giant faces of Mount Rushmore attracted some 350,000 visitors. Today, the site draws some 2,000,000 tourists annually. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, known as the “Shrine of Democracy,” has become one of the most iconic images of America and an international tourist attraction. In addition to the monument, visitors can tour the avenue of flags, amphitheater, Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center, and Sculptor’s studio. There is also a gift shop, hiking trail, and the Carver’s Cafe & Ice Cream, which serves up the ice cream recipe of Thomas Jefferson. Audio tours are available in the building across from the information center.
Want to learn more about Guzton Borglum and Mount Rushmore? Visit the Rushmore Borglum Story in Keystone. For a peak of what you can expect, watch the video below.