Mount Rushmore is one of America’s greatest monuments. The larger than life monument draws millions of visitors from all over the country to the park every year located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The granite batholith can be found on the northwest side of Black Elk Peak. The massive sculpture was carved into the face of a mountain in the early 20th century by Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum.
Borglum originally wanted his art to be a shrine to democracy, a celebration of the values synonymous with the United States. His vision endures today as it remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. Such a feat understandably has some interesting back story to it. Let’s take a look at five of the most incredible Mount Rushmore facts.
Top 5 Mount Rushmore Facts
1. The Fourth President Wasn’t a Lock
There was a lot of debate into who the famous ‘fourth face’ on Mount Rushmore would be. Most people in the United States and involved with the project could easily agree on the first three.
George Washington was an obvious choice because he was the first president and deeply involved in the country’s formation. Thomas Jefferson was selected for his role in writing the Declaration of Independence that kicked off the American Revolution. Abraham Lincoln was honored for his efforts to end slavery and see the U.S. through the devastating Civil War.
The fourth face, however, was not so easy to decide. Borglum reportedly went back and forth between Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Both were much more of Borglum’s contemporaries, which added to the difficulty of choosing one. Roosevelt was well known at the turn of the 20th century for his conservation efforts and the construction of the Panama Canal. Wilson, however, led the United States through the harrowing first World War.
Borglum eventually selected Roosevelt as the fourth and final Rushmore face.
2. Carved with Dynamite
It probably makes more sense when you realize the size and scale of what was being done. Massive sections of granite had to be removed from Mount Rushmore during the carving process.
All said, over 450,000 tons of granite were removed from the mountain. This was no hammer job. Over 90% of the work done on the sculpture was handled with precision dynamite explosions.
Prior to each detonation, deep holes were drilled into the granite and a technician placed dynamite sticks into each hole after calculating how the detonation would affect the shape of the stone.
After spending the day setting dynamite, all of the workers would come off the mountain and the charged would be detonated. Some of the precision work was done with chisels and jackhammers, but without dynamite, Mount Rushmore would have never come to be.
3. Of Course, There’s a Secret Room
Borglum originally wanted to also carve script into the mountain. He thought some words about the history of the Union would befit such a great sculpture. However, President Calvin Coolidge, charged with writing the script, didn’t meet Borglum’s literally standard, so it never materialized.
Instead, Borglum wanted to build a sept inside the mountain that would hold valuable texts on American history. He would call it the Hall of Records. Work began in 1938 on the Hall of Records as crews began detonating dynamite to move granite. However, because the project was going on during the Great Depression, money was tight.
Eventually, money for the Hall dried up. What’s left is 68-foot tunnel without stairs that remains unopened to the public. However, in 1998 a small box with porcelain panels containing the history of Mount Rushmore’s construction was placed in the Hall of Records.
4. Quartz Almost Spoiled the Party
Believe it or not, Mount Rushmore had a bit of a false start. Original plans put Thomas Jefferson to the left of President George Washington.
In July 1931, workers began working the area, but noticed that instead of granite, there was quartz material all over the place. They used dynamite to blast portions of the quartz away, but the blasts only led to the discovery of more quartz. They tried for 18 months to find their way to granite before eventually giving up.
Borglum made the call to change course. Instead, workers had to destroy the work already done on Washington’s left before beginning to carve Jefferson on his right side.
5. The Scale of the Project was Mind-Blowing
People now have to remember that workers in the 1930’s didn’t have the tools or technology that exist today. Almost all of the work was done by hand, with crude instruments according to today’s standards.
Knowing that, the scale of the work done to complete Mount Rushmore is truly amazing.
We’ve already said that over 450,000 tons of granite were removed from the site during work. Over 400 men staffed the crew, and the project took over 14 years to complete. Mount Rushmore stands at over 5,725 feet above sea level, so working on the site was not for the faint of heart.
The presidential eyes are 11 feet across and noses are over 20 feet long. The project costs just shy of US$1 million. It’s so big that every year maintenance crews have to go over the sculpture to seal cracks to prevent it from getting damaged.
6. Importance in Modern Times
Since its completion, Mount Rushmore has become a haven for travelers who want to come and bask in the majesty of the incredible sculpture.
Visitor facilities and other accommodations have been added, as well as a presidential trail and museum memorializing Borglum and the other men who built it.
The Grand View Terrace is the best way visitors can take in the view, directly facing all four presidential faces.
During the summertime, there are evening programs and a lighting ceremony that visitors can participate in.
Bonus: Gutzon Borglum. Died seven months before it was finished so the work had to be finished by his son.
Other Mount Rushmore Facts
Where is it?
How Big are the faces?
Each face is around 60 feet high.
How long did it take to be completed?
The work started in 1927 and finally ended in 1941.
Mount Rushmore remains one of the most recognizable monuments in the country and stands today as a celebration of freedom, democracy, and some of the great presidents who made what we enjoy today possible.