Lincoln Figure, 1937 Photo: National Park Service
Mt. Rushmore National Memorial
inspiration for the carving on Mt. Rushmore came from Doane
Robinson, State Historian for South Dakota. Mr. Robinson originally
favored a carving representing western heroes such as John Fremont,
Lewis & Clark, Sacagawea, Buffalo Bill Cody. To do the carving,
Robinson wanted the eminent sculptor Lorado Taft, but he declined
the commission because of poor health. Thus, at Robinson's
invitation, sculptor Gutzon Borglum came to South Dakota in 1924 to
survey the Black Hills for a suitable site for the carving. Borglum
was opposed to the idea of carving western figures, saying that it
should be "a national monument commemorating America's founders and
Borglum selected the Mt. Rushmore site in the Black
Hills, believing that its dimensions of 1000 feet long and 400 feet
wide well suited his purpose. On March 3, 1925, Federal legislation
was passed by Congress authorizing the carving and setting forth
the purpose for Mt. Rushmore State Park: "the establishment of a
memorial commemorative of our national history and progress."
Subsequently the Mount Harney Memorial Association was established
(later called the Mount Rushmore National Commission), whose task
it was to raise money for the project. It was decided that the
individuals who best exemplified the foundation, expansion and
preservation of the Republic-- Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and
Theodore Roosevelt--should be the subjects of the memorial. By
Executive Order of June 10, 1933, President Roosevelt placed Mt.
Rushmore under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. All
responsibilities were transferred to the National Park Service in
The carving of these faces had begun with a formal
dedication by President Coolidge on August 10, 1927. During the
course of the next 14 years, more than 350 people were employed in
the carving process. Borglum devised a system known as "pointing"
to remove very exact amounts of rock; thus 90 percent of the
mountain was carved by dynamite. The remaining fine finishing was
accomplished with air hammers. Workers became so skilled that,
using dynamite, rock could be removed to within a few inches of its
finished surface. One by one the faces were uncovered and
dedicated: Washington in 1930; Jefferson in 1936; Lincoln in 1937;
and Roosevelt in 1939.
Borglum wanted also to establish a Hall of Records to
capture the important documents describing the history of the
memorial, its purpose and the philosophy of our government as
contained in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,
but Congress approved funds solely for the carving of the
presidential figures. It was only in 1998 that Borglum's dream was
fulfilled, on a much less grand scale, with the placing of 16
explanatory panels in the vault in the unfinished Hall. Today, more
than 2.7 million visit Mt. Rushmore each year, making it one of the
most recognizable monuments in the United States.
The project is documented by a 6-page report on the
history of the monument, short reports on Washington, Jefferson,
Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Gutzon Borglum, his son James Lincoln
Borglum, who became the first Mt. Rushmore National Park
Superintendent in 1941, and others who made a difference in making
the dream of a monument on Mt. Rushmore become a reality. There are
additional reports on the Hall of Records and sculpture
maintenance. The reports are accompanied by eight 8 x 10 photos
showing Mt. Rushmore in the making and a National Park Service
Mount Rushmore: The Shrine.
Originally submitted by: John R. Thune, Representative (At Large).
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