Key Facts About Mount Rushmore

Famed Sculpture Devoted to 4 of America's Most Influential Presidents

Low Angle View Of Statues At Mount Rushmore National Memorial Against Sky
Jesse Kraft / EyeEm / Getty Images

Mount Rushmore is located in the Black Hills of Keystone, South Dakota. The sculpture of four famous presidents — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln — was carved into the granite rock face over many decades. According to the National Park Service, approximately 2.5 million people visit the monument each year. 

Fast Facts: Mount Rushmore

Location: Near Rapid City, South Dakota

Artist: Gutzon Borglum. Died seven months before it was finished; completed by son Lincoln.

Size: The presidents' faces are 60 feet high.

Material: Granite rock face

Year Started: 1927

Year Completed: 1941

Cost: $989,992.32

Notable: The artist was tagged for the project because of his work on the Confederate Memorial Carving at Stone Mountain, Georgia, which he began. His work was removed and another artist finished it, however.

Also in the national park is the Avenue of Flags, representing the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. In the summertime, the monument is also lit up at night.

History of Mount Rushmore National Park 

Gutzon Borglum's model the memorial
Gutzon Borglum's model of Mt. Rushmore memorial, where you see the original plans. Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Division/Public Domain/Wiki Commons 

Mount Rushmore National Park was the brainchild of Doane Robinson, known as the “Father of Mount Rushmore.” His goal was to create an attraction that would draw people from all over the country to his state. Robinson contacted Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who was working on the monument at Stone Mountain, Georgia.

Borglum met with Robinson during 1924 and 1925. He was the one who identified Mount Rushmore as a perfect location for a grand monument. This was due to the cliff's height above the surrounding area; its composition of granite, which would be slow to erode; and the fact that it faced southeast, to take advantage of the rising sun each day. Robinson worked with John Boland, President Calvin Coolidge, Rep. William Williamson, and Sen. Peter Norbeck to gain support in Congress and the funding to proceed.

Congress agreed to match up to $250,000 of funding for the project and created the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission. Work began, and by 1933 the Mount Rushmore project became part of the National Park Service. Borglum did not like having the NPS oversee the construction. However, he continued to work on the project until his death in 1941. The monument was deemed complete and ready for dedication on October 31, 1941. It eventually cost nearly $1 million.

Why Each of the Four Presidents Was Chosen

Statue of George Washington
Tetra Images/Getty Images

Borglum made the decision about which presidents to include on the mountain. According to the National Park Service, here's his reasoning:

  • George Washington: He was the first president and represented the foundation of American democracy.
  • Thomas Jefferson: With the Louisiana Purchase, he greatly expanded the nation. He was also the author of the hugely influential Declaration of Independence. 
  • Theodore Roosevelt: He not only represented the industrial development of the nation but was also widely known for conservation efforts. 
  • Abraham Lincoln: As the president during the U.S. Civil War, he represents the preservation of the nation above all costs. 

Carving Done With Dynamite

Man holding sticks of dynamite
The 'powder monkey' is holding dynamite and detonators.  Archive Photos/Getty Images

With 450,000 tons of granite that needed to be removed, the sculptor found out early on that jackhammers were not going to take care of the job fast enough. He employed a munitions expert to insert charges of dynamite into drilled holes and blasted the rock off when the workers were off of the mountain. Eventually, 90 percent of the granite removed from the rock face was done with dynamite.

Changes to the Design

hall of records mount rushmore
The unfinished hall of records behind Abraham Lincoln's head, just as Gutzon Borglum left it. Rachel.Miller727/Creative Commons/Wiki Commons

During production, the design went through nine changes.

Entablature

What appears isn't exactly how the sculpture was conceived by sculptor Borglum, who also had plans for wording to be etched into the rock face, called the Entablature. It was to contain a brief history of the United States, highlighting nine important events between 1776 and 1906, carved into an image of the Louisiana Purchase. Given issues over the wording and funding and the fact that people wouldn't be able to read it from a distance, that idea was scrapped.

Hall of Records

Another plan was to have a Hall of Records in a room behind Lincoln's head that would be accessed by the public via a staircase from the base of the mountain. On display would be important documents in a room decorated with mosaics. It too was discontinued, in 1939, due to lack of funding. Congress told the artist to concentrate on the faces and just get it done. A tunnel is what remains. It does house some porcelain panels giving the background about the building of the monument, the artist, and the presidents, but it's inaccessible to visitors due to the lack of a staircase.

More Than Heads

Mock-ups of the design include the four presidents from the waist up. Funding was ever an issue, and the directive was to just stick with the four faces.

Jefferson Moved Over

Low Angle View Of Mt Rushmore National Monument Against Clear Sky
Thomas Jefferson was originally on the other side of George Washington. Carmen Martinez Torron/Getty Images

Thomas Jefferson was originally started on George Washington's right, and carving of Jefferson's face began in 1931. However, the granite there was full of quartz. Workers kept blasting off the quartz, but after 18 months they realized that the location was just not working. His face was dynamited off and carved on the other side.

Carving

Carving Thomas Jefferson on Mount Rushmore
Stone carvers on scaffolding and hoists carve the face of Thomas Jefferson into Mount Rushmore. George Rinhart/Getty Images

Workers hung from a 3/8-inch steel cable in bosun's chairs as they worked with jackhammers, drills, and chisels and carried dynamite. To their credit, no one died during Mount Rushmore's construction — or the mountain's destruction, as the case may be. A crew of four hundred worked on the sculpture.

Facts About Borglum

Gutzon Borglum the sculptor, seated, in working garb.
American Sculptor Gutzon Borglum. George Rinhart/Getty Images

Art Background

Gutzon Borglum studied in Paris and became friends with Auguste Rodin, who heavily influenced the young artist. Borglum was the first American sculptor to have his work purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. 

Stone Mountain

Although Borglum had begun the sculpture on Stone Mountain, Georgia, he never finished it. He left on bad terms, and his work was cleared away from the mountain face. Another sculptor, Augustus Lukeman, was called in to finish the work. 

Tempestuous Boss

Borglum was often away during the sculpting of Mount Rushmore. While it was being completed, he also made a sculpture of Thomas Paine for Paris and Woodrow Wilson for Poland. His son supervised the work on the mountain during his absence. 

When he was on site, he was known for his mood swings and was continuously firing and rehiring people. His energy for the project and persistence, through many years of trials and issues with funding, eventually led to the project's completion. Unfortunately, he died seven months before it was done. His son completed it.

Origin of the Mountain Name

The mountain took its name — incredibly — from a New York attorney there on business who asked the name of the location in 1884 or 1885. A local man with the group looking at the mountain informed him that it didn't have a name but said, "We will name it now, and name it Rushmore Peak," according to a letter from Charles Rushmore, the lawyer who was in the area for a client researching a mine.