The Construction of The Mount Rushmore Presidential Figures
Mt. Rushmore – Mt Rushmore, named after a New York lawyer who visited the area, stands as a memorial to the greatness of our nation. It is located in South Dakota (SD) near Keystone at the western edge of the state.
The sculpture at Mt Rushmore is not the only one dreamed of in history. As early as 1849, Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton proposed a super-scale Christopher Columbus in the Rocky Mountains. South Dakota historian Jonah LeRoy “Doane” Robinson first conceived of the sculpture to promote tourism in the early 1920s. He had heard of the carving underway at Stone Mountain in Georgia and thought that something of the sort would help bring visitors to his state as well.
He had originally selected a site called The Needles to provide some kind of sculpture, he didn’t know yet just what, but it was rejected later as being of poor quality and unable to stand up to the carving. The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, chose Mt. Rushmore as a better site for the project. Its southeastern exposure would show better and would provide direct sunlight for most of the day.
Robinson set about trying to get Federal support for the project. In 1929 he managed to obtain favor from President Calvin Coolidge who got Congress to fund the carving against all sorts of objection from the Native American community. There is still much controversy today as the Lakota Sioux claim that the land and the mountain were seized from them in opposition to an earlier treaty.
At a cost of nearly one million dollars the carving up of Mt. Rushmore was started in October 1927 and was finished 14 years later in October 1941. Although it took 14 years to complete, the actual total time to finish the sculpture was 6 ½ years due to funding spurts and much controversy over the morality of the project. Gutzon Borglum died in 1941 and his son Lincoln finished the last seven months of the project.
The Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln are depicted on the southeastern face of the mountain. The heads are approximately 60 feet high and should there have been a head to toe sculpture the result would have been 465 feet tall. The eyes are 11 feet across and the noses are about 20 feet long.
A process called honeycombing was employed during the final phase of the sculpting. Initially 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 honeycombing would weaken the granite so it could be removed often by hand.
There were approximately 400 workers at Mount Rushmore during the carving process from start to finish and throughout this extremely dangerous work there were no lives lost.
It is somewhat ironic that during a very stressful time in our nation’s history that something of this magnitude could be wrought. It is a memorial to the determination and vision of the American people during these hard times.