Mount Rushmore – South Dakota, USA

On Tuesday morning we left Deadwood, our destination for today being Denver in Colorado some 6 hours away.  We decided to drive through the Black Hills and visit Mount Rushmore along the way.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore, a granite batholith formation in the Black Hills in Keystone, South Dakota.  Sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, Mount Rushmore features 60-foot (18 m) sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).  The entire memorial covers 1,278.45 acres (2.00 sq mi; 5.17 km2) and is 5,725 feet (1,745 m) above sea level.

Originally known to the Lakota Sioux as “The Six Grandfathers”, the mountain was renamed after Charles E. Rushmore, a prominent New York lawyer, during an expedition in 1885.  At first, the project of carving Rushmore was undertaken to increase tourism in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. After long negotiations involving a Congressional delegation and President Calvin Coolidge, the project received Congressional approval. The carving started in 1927.

Over 450,00 tons of rock were removed from Mount Rushmore to bring out the presidential faces.  Although about 90% of the rock was removed with dynamite, the remaining rock was removed by drilling with jackhammers and wedging the rock off the mountain.  The final finishing work on the faces was completed using small jackhammers and facing bits.  Air compressors located at the base of the mountain provided the power to operate these jackhammers.

Upon Gutzon Borglum’s death in March 1941, his son Lincoln Borglum took over construction. Although the initial concept called for each president to be depicted from head to waist, lack of funding forced construction to end in late October 1941.  No fatalities occurred during the construction.  

Mount Rushmore has become an iconic symbol of the United States, and has appeared in works of fiction, and has been discussed or depicted in other popular works. It attracts over two million people annually.

The Four Presidents

George Washington – 1st President – 1789 to 1797

George Washington was born on the 22nd February 1732 in Virginia and died on the 14th December 1799 aged 67.  He was a solider and served as an officer in the French & Indian War.  He was also the Commander in Cheif in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.  He was the first President of the USA and under his term the first tax laws were adopted and the Bill of Right became law.

“Time and habit are at least necessary to fix the true character of governments, as of other human institutions…. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, it’s surest guardian.”  – Farewell address, September 17, 1796

Gutzon Borgum, the Sculptor said…

“This is the work that I love most, this intimate contact with the four men.  As I become engrossed in the features and personality of each man, I feel myself growing in stature, just as they did when their characters grew and developed.”

“Washington, as the guiding genius from the time of our national conception, through its struggle for life and the completion of its Constitution, becomes the central part of this great group.”

Thomas Jefferson – 3rd President – 1801 – 1809

Thomas Jefferson was born on the 13th April 1743 in Virgina and died on the 4th of July 1826 which coincidentally was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  He was 83 when he died.  He was a lawyer and scientific farmer.  He was the Minister to France and George Washington’s Secretary of State.  Highlights during his term as President included purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France for USD15 million, making the importation of African slaves to the USA illegal and commissioning the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The expedition comprised a selected group of U.S. Army volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend, Second Lieutenant William Clark. Their perilous journey lasted from May 1804 to September 1806. The primary objective was to explore and to map the newly acquired territory of what is now known as the western part of the USA, to find a practical route across this half of the continent, and to establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it.

“Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power.  Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science, by rendering them my supreme delight.  But the enormities of the times in which I have lived, have forced me to take a part in resisting them, and to commit myself on the boisterous ocean of political passions.” – letter to P. S. DuPont de Nemours, March 2, 1809, two days before leaving office

Gutzon Borgum, the Sculptor said…

“In the portraits and data we have of him… We see the young man, the torch bearer, the artist, the architect, the musician and builder, the creator in all his varied moods. I am sorry I have only one portrait to make of him.”

Abraham Lincoln – 16th President – 1861 to 1865

Abraham Lincoln was born on the 12th February 1809 in a log cabin in Kentucky and died on the 15th April 1865 aged 56 in Washington, DC after having been shot at Ford’s Theatre the night before. He was a lawyer and was elected to the Illinois State Legislature in 1834 and a Member of the US House of Representatives between 1847 and 1849.  The Civil War began and ended during his time in office.

“We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” – First Inagural Address – March 4, 1861

Gutzon Borgum, the Sculptor said…

‘He was more deeply rooted in the home principles that are keeping us together than any man who was ever asked to make his heart-beat national.”

“He is at once the heart and soul of Mount Rushmore.”

Theodore Roosevelt – 26th President – 1901 to 1909

Theodore Roosevelt was born on the 27th October 1858 in New York and died on the 6th January 1919 in New York aged 60.  He was an author, a lawyer and a public official.  His career highlights included being the Governor of New York and being the Commander of the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War.  He was William McKinley’s Vice President and became the youngest President at 42 when William McKinley was assassinated.  Highlights when he was in office include being the first President to travel outside the US, he worked to bring big business under regulation and the construction of the Panama Canal began.

“Perhaps the two most striking things in the presidency are the immense power of the President, in the first place; and in the second place, the fact that as soon as he has ceased being President he goes right back into the body of the people and becomes just like any other American citizen.” – written in early 1900’s and published in The Youth’s Companion, November 6, 1902

Gutzon Borgum, the Sculptor said…

“Roosevelt seems fairly to have leaped with life.  He kidnapped energy and carried it into the Nation’s home… He remains undrawn, none will engrave him.  His spirit is still at large, uncaptured by artist or sculptor.”

The last model made by the sculptor in 1938. The scale was One Inch = One Foot

Lincoln Mask – plaster masks of each of the presidents represented on Mount Rushmore were made by the sculptor.  These masks were hung from cables on the mountain and were used by workers for visual comparisons and measurement.


This blog was originally set up to share our 9 month adventure around Europe and the USA with friends and family in 2014. On returning to NZ in January 2015 I decided to carry it on so I could continue to share any future travel adventures - it has become my electronic travel diary. I hope you enjoy and get inspired to visit some of the wonderful places we have visited.
This entry was posted in South Dakota, USA, United States of America. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s