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Mount Rushmore - South Dakota, USA - Leading Landmarks
2587    Dibyendu Banerjee    15/07/2018

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a mammoth sculpture carved in the granite face of the Mount Rushmore, in the Black Hills in South Dakota, USA. The southeastern face of the Mountain is the site of the gigantic sculpture depicting the faces of four eminent Presidents of the United States, namely George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Led by the sculptor Gutzon Borglum, work on the marathon project started in 1927 and was finally completed in 1941. Over that prolonged time period about 400 workers toiled hard to erect the mammoth sculpture under precarious conditions, removing about 450,000 tons of rock in order to create the 60 feet (18 m) high enormous carved heads. According to the original design of Gutzon Borglum, the four presidents were supposed to be carved from the waist up, but due to insufficient funding, the carving was stopped after completion of the faces. Today, Mount Rushmore, also popularly known the ‘Shrine of Democracy,’ welcomes more than 2 million visitors every year and is recognized as one of the most popular tourist spots in America.

Mount Rushmore
As seen from the highway leading to park entrance

Mount Rushmore was named after the New York lawyer Charles E. Rushmore, who visited the Black Hills in 1884 with the intention to inspect mining claims in the region. As a drive to attract the tourists to the Black Hills in the early 1920s, South Dakota’s state historian Doane Robinson came up with the brilliant idea to sculpt several giant natural granite pillars, also known as ‘the Needles’, into the shape of historic heroes of the West. He suggested the name of Red Cloud, a Sioux chief, as a potential subject.


Much later, in August 1924, Gutzon Borglum, an American sculptor of Danish descent, was contacted by Robinson for the purpose. It was the sculptor, who suggested him about carving the figures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, which he thought, would be the best to attract more national interest. Subsequently, the names of Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt were added to his list, in recognition of their contributions to the birth of democracy and the growth of the United States.

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore before construction, circa 1905.

During a second visit to the Black Hills in August 1925, Borglum identified Mount Rushmore as the ideal site of the gigantic sculpture. Though the local Native Americans and environmentalists raised their voice in protest against the project, deeming it a desecration of the natural landscape, Robinson worked tirelessly to arrange funding for the project. Among others, he was aptly aided in the matter by the Rapid City Mayor John Boland and Senator Peter Norbeck. During the Presidential visit to the Black Hills for his summer vacation, the sculptor personally talked to the President, Calvin Coolidge and he agreed to deliver an official dedication speech at Mount Rushmore on August 10, 1927.

The projected Herculean carving began that October. In the meantime, during the last days of his presidency, Coolidge in 1929 appropriated a huge sum of US $250,000 in federal funds, for the Rushmore project. He also created the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission with Boland as the president of the commission’s executive committee, to oversee the completion of the project. However, to his utter surprise and immense frustration, Robinson was not included in the committee.

Mount Rushmore
The face of George Washington is carved in stone on the side of Mount Rushmore

In addition to the more traditional tools of drills and chisels, Borglum also utilized new methods involving dynamite and pneumatic hammers to blast through a large amount of rock in a shorter time, to carve the heads of the four presidents into the face of Mount Rushmore. In the process, about 400 workers removed around 450,000 tons of rock from the mountain, which still remains in a huge heap near the base of the mountain. It was a difficult and hazardous job, yet no lives were lost till the completion of the enormous project.


Initially, the head Thomas Jefferson was intended to be carved on the right side of George Washington. However, as the work progressed, the rock in that area was found to be weak and not suitable for the job. Hence, the incomplete image of Jefferson figure was dynamited, and a new image was sculptured to Washington's left. In 1933, the National Park Service took Mount Rushmore under its jurisdiction and by July 4, 1934, Washington's face had been completed and was dedicated. After that, the faces of the other three Presidents were completed and dedicated serially - Thomas Jefferson in 1936, Abraham Lincoln on September 17, 1937 and lastly, the face of Theodore Roosevelt was dedicated in July 1939.

Mount Rushmore
The sculpture of Abraham Lincoln's face looks out from the side of Mount Rushmore

Construction of the project finally completed on the 31st October, 1941. However, a few months before the completion, Gutzon Borglum unfortunately died in March 1941 and his son Lincoln Borglum took the responsibility as the leader of the project to complete the final details of the Mount Rushmore project in time.

Mount Rushmore
Avenue of Flags with Mount Rushmore in the background.
Mount Rushmore
Entrance to the site

On October 15, 1966, Mount Rushmore was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on 15th October, 1966 and today it has become an iconic symbol of the United States. Because of its international fame as a monument, Mount Rushmore has appeared in many works of fiction and depicted in multiple places in popular culture. As South Dakota do not allow filming on Mount Rushmore, the famous film director Alfred Hitchcock had to build a huge set of the said location in a Hollywood studio in 1959, for his film ’North b Northwest.’ In 1991, Mount Rushmore celebrated its 50th anniversary after undergoing a $40 million restoration project.

Mount Rushmore
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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