Work Begins on Mount Rushmore
On October 4, 1927, Gutzon Borglum began sculpting Mount Rushmore in South Dakota’s Black Hills.
In 1923, historian Doane Robinson recognized the amount of tourism generated by Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks for their respective states. This gave him idea to sculpt a mountain to promote tourism in South Dakota. Robinson’s initial vision was to honor heroes of the American West such as George Armstrong Custer, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the Sioux Chief Red Cloud.
Robinson needed a capable sculptor to carry out his idea. He had read about Gutzon Borglum’s work on Stone Mountain in Georgia and asked him to come to South Dakota. At the time of his first view of Mount Rushmore in 1924, Borglum said, “America will march along that skyline.” Although he agreed to do to the project, Borglum wanted the monument to honor more than the American West. Instead, he suggested it represent 150 years of American history. He chose George Washington (“Father of our Country”), Thomas Jefferson (author of the Declaration of Independence), Teddy Roosevelt (opened the waters between the East and the West with the Panama Canal), and Abraham Lincoln (preserved the Union in one of our nation’s darkest times and brought equality to all) for their profound impact on the shaping of America.
With Borglum on board, Robinson needed to get the project approved. Senator Peter Norbeck and Congressman William Williamson were the driving forces behind getting the legislation passed to permit the carving. After extensive lobbying, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission was approved on March 3, 1925. It was then dedicated on August 10, 1927, with President Calvin Coolidge in attendance, promising funding for the project.
Borglum then met with Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon to convince him of the project’s importance and get his support for funding. Mellon agreed to fund the entire project, but Borglum said he would only need half the money, as the rest could be raised privately. The resulting bill authorized the government to match funds up to $250,000.
Construction on the mountain began on October 4, 1927. Borglum and his team of 400 workers sculpted the 60-foot carvings, which peak at 5,725 feet above sea level. The project was plagued by issues ranging from budgetary concerns to the quality of rock. Borglum’s son Lincoln took over the project in 1939 while his father sought more funding, and then further in 1941 when Gutzon passed away. The sculptures were completed on October 31, 1941. Since then, a Presidential Trail, Visitor Center, and Museum have been added to the mountain.
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