Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a United States National Memorial in the west of South Dakota. Featuring the monumental faces of four former Presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – blasted and carved from the white rock of a mountain, Mount Rushmore is a national icon.
The four 60-foot granite faces of Mount Rushmore National Memorial draw more than three million visitors each year.
The first blast on the mountain occurred in 1927. Under the direction of sculptor Gutzon Borglum, 400 workers labored through hot summers and cold winters to create the sculpture, nearly 500 feet up the side of the mountain. More than 90 percent of the mountain was carved using dynamite. The fine details of the faces were achieved with a jackhammer. Operators hung from the top of the mountain in bosun chairs held by steel cables. Despite the dangerous work, during the 14 years of construction, not a single person died. The memorial was officially declared complete on October 31, 1941.
However, Gutzon Borglum’s vision was not completed – original plans included head-to-waist depictions of the presidents. When Borglum died suddenly in July 1941, his son, Lincoln, tried to continue his father’s work, but funding ran out as America entered World War II. Visitors wanting to see a model of Borglum’s vision can view it at the Sculptor’s Studio at the memorial.
Another part of Borglum’s grand vision was for a Hall of Records to be carved into the canyon behind the faces. Borglum envisioned a majestic room that held important documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Borglum started blasting the hall, but never finished it.
On August 9, 1998, Borglum’s Hall of Records was somewhat completed when a repository was placed in the floor of the hall entry. Inside a titanium vault are 16 porcelain enamel panels inscribed with the story of Mount Rushmore, the reasons for selecting the four presidents and a short history of the United States. The Hall of Records is not accessible to visitors, but is left as a record for people thousands of years from now.
Before the name Rushmore was ever used in the area, the Black Hills were sacred land for the Lakota Native American people, who have never recognized the U.S. seizure of their land, condemn what they consider the defacing of a sacred mountain, and refused to take compensation when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in their favor but declined to restore any of the stolen land to them.
The mountain now widely known as Mount Rushmore was renamed to honor Charles E. Rushmore, a New York City attorney who was sent out to this area in 1884 to check legal titles on properties. The giant outcropping of rock was a favorite place that many presidents visited with their families.
The four granite faces that give the mountain its greatest claim to fame were carved over a 14-year period (October 4, 1927 – October 31, 1941) by over 400 workers under the supervision of Gutzon Borglum, an American sculptor. Each face is about 60 ft (18 m) high; if the bodies were to be included, each figure would be about 460 ft (140 m) high.
Mount Rushmore is a project of colossal proportion, colossal ambition and colossal achievement. It involved the efforts of nearly 400 men and women. The duties involved varied greatly from the call boy to drillers to the blacksmith to the housekeepers. The workers had to endure conditions that varied from blazing hot to bitter cold and windy. Each day they climbed 700 stairs to the top of the mountain to punch-in on the time clock. Then 3/8 inch thick steel cables lowered them over the front of the 500 ft (150 m) face of the mountain in a “bosun chair”. Some of the workers admitted being uneasy with heights, but during the Depression, any job was a good job.
The work was exciting, but dangerous, 90% of the mountain was carved using dynamite. The powdermen would cut and set charges of dynamite of specific sizes to remove precise amounts of rock. Before the dynamite charges could be set off, the workers would have to be cleared from the mountain. Workers in the winch house on top of the mountain would hand crank the winches to raise and lower the drillers. During the 14 years of construction not one fatality occurred.
Dynamite was used until only three to six inches of rock was left to remove to get to the final carving surface. 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. 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.
From 1927 to 1941, the 400 workers at Mount Rushmore sculpted, through the rock and soil, a landmark that people from across the nation and around the world would travel to see for generations to come.