Mount Rushmore National Memorial is centered on a colossal sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills in Keystone, South Dakota. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum created the sculpture's design and oversaw the project's execution from 1927 to 1941 with the help of his son, Lincoln Borglum. The sculpture features the 60-foot (18 m) heads of Presidents George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), as recommended by Borglum. The four presidents were chosen to represent the nation's birth, growth, development, and preservation, respectively. The memorial park covers 1,278 acres (2.00 sq mi; 5.17 km2) and the actual mountain has an elevation of 5,725 feet (1,745 m) above sea level.
South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of noted figures into the mountains of the Black Hills of South Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region. His initial idea was to sculpt the Needles; however, Gutzon Borglum rejected the Needles because of the poor quality of the granite and strong opposition from the Lakota (Sioux), who consider the Black Hills to be sacred ground; it was originally included in the Great Sioux Reservation. The United States broke up the territory after gold was discovered in the Black Hills. The mountain into which it was carved is known to the Lakota Sioux as Six Grandfathers.
The sculptor and tribal representatives settled on Mount Rushmore, which also has the advantage of facing southeast for maximum sun exposure. Robinson wanted it to feature American West heroes, such as Lewis and Clark, their expedition guide Sacagawea, Oglala Lakota chief Red Cloud, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Oglala Lakota chief Crazy Horse. Borglum believed that the sculpture should have broader appeal and chose the four presidents.
Peter Norbeck, the US Senator from South Dakota, sponsored the project and secured federal funding. Construction began in 1927, and the presidents' faces were completed between 1934 and 1939. After Gutzon Borglum died in March 1941, his son Lincoln took over as leader of the construction project. Each president was originally to be depicted from head to waist, but lack of funding forced construction to end on October 31, 1941.
Sometimes referred to as the "Shrine of Democracy", Mount Rushmore attracts more than two million visitors annually.
Mount Rushmore was conceived with the intention of creating a site to lure tourists, representing "not only the wild grandeur of its local geography but also the triumph of modern civilization over that geography through its anthropomorphic representation". For the latest occupants of the land, the Lakota Sioux, and other tribes the monument has "come to epitomize the loss of their sacred lands and the injustices they’ve suffered under the US government". The U.S. Government promised the Sioux territory, including the entirety of the Black Hills, in the Treaty of 1868. That lasted only until the discovery of gold on the land, and soon after white settlers migrated to the area in the 1870s. The federal government then forced the Sioux to relinquish the Black Hills portion of their reservation. The battle that took place in 1890 between the US Army and the Native Americans is known as the Wounded Knee Massacre, "where hundreds of unarmed Sioux women, children, and men were shot and killed by U.S. troops", as summarized by PBS regarding historian Dee Brown's account of the event.
The four presidential faces were carved into the granite with the intention of symbolizing "an accomplishment born, planned, and created in the minds and by the hands of Americans for Americans".
Originally known to the Lakota Sioux as "The Six Grandfathers" (Tȟuŋkášila Šákpe) or "Cougar Mountain" (Igmútȟaŋka Pahá); American settlers knew it variously as Cougar Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, Slaughterhouse Mountain, and Keystone Cliffs. As Six Grandfathers, the mountain was part of the route that Lakota leader Black Elk took in a spiritual journey that culminated at Black Elk Peak. Following a series of military campaigns from 1876 to 1878, the United States asserted control over the area, a claim that is still disputed on the basis of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie (see section "Controversy" below).
Beginning with a prospecting expedition in 1885 with David Swanzey (husband of Carrie Ingalls), and Bill Challis, wealthy investor Charles E. Rushmore began visiting the area regularly on prospecting and hunting trips. He repeatedly joked with colleagues about naming the mountain after himself. The United States Board of Geographic Names officially recognized the name "Mount Rushmore" in June 1930.
Concept, design, and funding
Historian Doane Robinson conceived the idea for Mount Rushmore in 1923 to promote tourism in South Dakota. In 1924, Robinson persuaded sculptor Gutzon Borglum to travel to the Black Hills region to ensure the carving could be accomplished. The original plan was to make the carvings in granite pillars known as the Needles. However, Borglum realized that the eroded Needles were too thin to support sculpting. He chose Mount Rushmore, a grander location, partly because it faced southeast and enjoyed maximum exposure to the sun.
Borglum said upon seeing Mount Rushmore, "America will march along that skyline".
Borglum had been involved in sculpting the Confederate Memorial Carving, a massive bas-relief memorial to Confederate leaders on Stone Mountain in Georgia, but was in disagreement with the officials there.
After long negotiations involving a Congressional delegation and President Calvin Coolidge, the project received Congressional approval on March 3, 1925. The carving started in 1927 and ended in 1941 with no fatalities.
Between October 4, 1927, and October 31, 1941, Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers sculpted the colossal 60-foot-high (18 m) carvings of United States Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln to represent the first 130 years of American history. These presidents were selected by Borglum because of their role in preserving the Republic and expanding its territory. The carving of Mount Rushmore involved the use of dynamite, followed by the process of "honeycombing", a process where workers drill holes close together, allowing small pieces to be removed by hand. In total, about 450,000 short tons (410,000 t) of rock were blasted off the mountainside. The image of Thomas Jefferson was originally intended to appear in the area at Washington's right, but after the work there was begun, the rock was found to be unsuitable, so the work on the Jefferson figure was dynamited, and a new figure was sculpted to Washington's left.
The Chief Carver of the mountain was Luigi del Bianco, artisan and headstone carver in Port Chester, New York. Del Bianco emigrated to the U.S. from Friuli in Italy and was chosen to work on this project because of his understanding of sculptural language and ability to imbue emotion in the carved portraits.
In 1933, the National Park Service took Mount Rushmore under its jurisdiction. Julian Spotts helped with the project by improving its infrastructure. For example, he had the tram upgraded so it could reach the top of Mount Rushmore for the ease of workers. By July 4, 1934, Washington's face had been completed and was dedicated. The face of Thomas Jefferson was dedicated in 1936, and the face of Abraham Lincoln was dedicated on September 17, 1937. In 1937, a bill was introduced in Congress to add the head of civil-rights leader Susan B. Anthony, but a rider was passed on an appropriations bill requiring federal funds be used to finish only those heads that had already been started at that time. In 1939, the face of Theodore Roosevelt was dedicated.
The Sculptor's Studio – a display of unique plaster models and tools related to the sculpting – was built in 1939 under the direction of Borglum. Borglum died from an embolism in March 1941. His son, Lincoln Borglum, continued the project. Originally, it was planned that the figures would be carved from head to waist, but insufficient funding forced the carving to end. Borglum had also planned a massive panel in the shape of the Louisiana Purchase commemorating in eight-foot-tall gilded letters the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, Louisiana Purchase, and seven other territorial acquisitions from Alaska to Texas to the Panama Canal Zone. In total, the entire project cost US$989,992.32.
Nick Clifford, the last remaining carver, died in November 2019 at age 98.