Creation of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Began 96 Years Ago TODAY

American landmark took 14 years to complete, meant to commemorate the nation ‘until the end of time’

A monument’s dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated.

— Gutzon Borglum

The creation of Mount Rushmore which set the images of four American presidents in towering monumental relief in the Black Hills of South Dakota began on this day in history, October 4, 1927. 

“Mount Rushmore is a project of colossal proportion, colossal ambition and colossal achievement,” writes the National Park Service (NPS) which assumed management of the landmark by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.  

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument immortalizes presidents George Washington (1789-97), Thomas Jefferson (1801-09), Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09), and Abraham Lincoln (1861-65). 

Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum led the effort which employed about 400 men and women before it was completed on October 31, 1941.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is open year-round, seven days a week, and is located 23 miles from Rapid City. The memorial offers a variety of activities so plan to spend at least four to five hours there. Visitors can leave and return to the memorial the same day for the evening lighting ceremony. Mount Rushmore also features a gift shop, an information center, and an award-winning audio tour. 

“A monument’s dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated,” Borghlum said of his majestic relief in which the face of each president stands about 60 feet in height. 

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what matter of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away.”

When Texas Sen. Tom Connolly questioned the project, Borglum responded fiercely, “Mount Rushmore is eternal. It will stand until the end of time.”

The artist never saw his vision to completion. 

He died of a heart attack in March 1941. His son Lincoln Borglum oversaw the project in its final months. 

The face of each president was slowly revealed over years of work: first Washington (1930), then Jefferson (1936), then Lincoln (1937), and finally Roosevelt (1939). 

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Washington’s faith in the new republic in its darkest hours earned him the title Father of His Country.

Jefferson gave humanity the belief that “all men are created equal.” 

Roosevelt was one of the world’s leading reformers and environmentalists and won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.

And Lincoln emancipated from slavery nearly 4 million Americans and inspired the nation through the tragedy of the Civil War. 

Yet those achievements are not good enough for some Americans today—as Mount Rushmore has come under attack in recent years by “woke” pundits.

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Can we retire using Mount Rushmore? That should be offensive to all of us especially Native Americans—indigenous people who were the first people here before Christopher Columbus,” former NBA star and basketball analyst Jalen Rose said in a video tweet. “That land was stolen from them when it was discovered that it contained gold,” he also said. 

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., responded days later by introducing the Mount Rushmore Protection Act.

The act prohibits the use of federal funds “to alter, change, destroy, or remove the likeness, the name of or any of the faces on the Mount Rushmore National Memorial,” Johnson’s office said in a press release. 

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The process for carving the monument from a mountain face of granite and sandstone was ambitious, daring, and dangerous.

Rock was first blown off the mountain with the use of targeted explosives before the process got increasingly more precise.

“Dynamite was used until only three to six inches of rock was left to remove to get to the final carving surface,” writes the NPS. 

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At this point, the drillers and assistant carvers would drill holes into the granite very close together. This was called honeycombing. The closely drilled holes would weaken the granite so it could be removed often by hand.”

NPS also said, “After the honeycombing, the workers smoothed the surface of the faces with a hand facer or bumper tool. In this final step, the bumper tool would even up the granite, creating a surface as smooth as a sidewalk.”

The work “was exciting, but dangerous”—yet not one person died in the 14 years of construction despite the explosives, heights and daunting conditions, the NPS reports.

Worth Pondering…

The noble countenances emerge from Rushmore as though the spirit of the mountain heard a human plan and itself became a human countenance.

—Frank Lloyd Wright