When you hear the two words “Mount Rushmore,” you probably think of the four American presidents whose sixty foot-tall heads are carved into a granite mountain somewhere in the American West. But did you ever wonder about the backstory: why those men? And how did they get there?
Mount Rushmore is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The huge sculpture serves to honor the greatness and achievements of four American leaders.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, presidents One and Three — and two of the nation’s Founding Fathers, and signers of the Declaration of Independence — and Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
The monument was the brainstorm of a South Dakota historian, who, in 1923, wanted to promote tourism. It worked! Nowadays, almost 3 million people visit the monument each year.
It took 400 men — using dynamite, jackhammers, and hand chisels — 14 years to carve the four faces out of the granite rock.
Most of the work was done in the 1920s and -30s, during the Great Depression, and cost about a million dollars — about $14 million in today’s money. Despite the danger involved in the project, remarkably, no one died.
Originally, Gutzon Borglum, the artist who designed the mountain, envisioned his “Shrine of Democracy” to be depicted from the waist up. But the economy was so bad, they had to cut corners — literally.
But even so, the heads are still huge! Each about 60 feet tall, the height of the six-story building. The noses are approximately 20 feet long, with 11-foot wide eyes, and 18-foot wide mouths.
So why these guys? Each of the men was chosen to represent a different aspect of America’s history.
Washington, the first president — and likewise, the first face to be completed, represents “Founding.” He’s the guy who brought the very divided colonies together in the first place.
Face number two was president number three, Thomas Jefferson. He represents “Growth,” because he sought to expand the country. You’ve probably heard of Lewis and Clark. He’s the one who sent them to explore the West, after he purchased a huge chunk of land from France.
By the way, Jefferson’s face was originally on the other side of Washington’s but when the granite proved to be too weak, they blasted it away and started over, in a new position.
Theodore Roosevelt, president 26, represents “Development.” He was all about giving every citizen the opportunity to achieve. He supported economic growth, as well as conservation. In fact, you can thank Teddy Roosevelt for America’s national park system.
Abraham Lincoln, without his famous top hat — the 16th president — was the last head to be carved. Lincoln, famous for his part in abolishing slavery, and unfortunately for him, being assassinated, is on Mount Rushmore because of his efforts to preserve the nation in the wake of a very bloody civil war.
Then who’s “Rushmore”? He was a lawyer and businessman from New York, touring the area in 1884. As the story goes, when he asked his guide about the name of the mountain, the guide responded, “We will name it now, and name it Rushmore Peak.”
There’s one more person whose name you should know: Luigi del Bianco, the chief carver. His work was only recently acknowledged, after two of his family members found documented proof at the Library of Congress.
So, do you think there should be other faces up there? In 1935, there was a proposal to add women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony. Fast forward to today, there are those who ask if Presidents Reagan or Obama should be added.
If you had to pick a great American to join the foursome, who would it be?