Mount Rushmore stands at the gateway to the West and was built to embody the spirit of the foundation, preservation, and expansion of the United States. There is no greater monument to American expansionists' efforts to tame the wild and rugged terrain of the West. It took 14 years for sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his crew to carve 60-foot-tall faces of four U.S. presidents - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln - into a wall of exposed granite. The faces tower over a setting of pine, spruce, birch, and aspen on 5,725-foot Mount Rushmore.

 


In an era when many artists scorned traditional patriotism, Gutzon Borglum made his name through celebration of things American. As his style evolved, "American" came to mean "big." "Our age will some day be called the 'Colossal Age,' " complained Borglum, "There is not a monument in this country as big as a snuff box." Born in Idaho in 1867, this son of Danish Mormons studied art in Paris. Back home he worked in the shadow of his artist brother Solon even after several works brought Gutzon moderate fame. Among them were a remodeled torch for the Statue of Liberty, saints and apostles for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, a seated Lincoln in Newark, N.J., and an oversized Lincoln bust for the U.S. Capitol. In 1915 he began the Stone Mountain memorial which brought experience in large-scale granite carving -- and in showmanship.
Borglum scouted out a location far better than the fragile Needles: 5,725-foot Mount Rushmore, named in 1885 for New York lawyer Charles E. Rushmore. Its broad wall of exposed granite faced southeast to receive direct sunlight for most of the day. Borglum's choice of subjects promised to elevate the memorial from a regional enterprise to a national cause, "in commemoration of the foundation, preservation, and continental expansion of the United States." Borglum envisioned four U.S. presidents beside an entablature inscribed with a brief history of the country. In a separate wall behind the carved figures the Hall of Records would preserve national documents and artifacts.
Borglum selected Mt. Rushmore because:

  • it was smooth-grained granite,
  • its 5,725-foot height dominated the surrounding terrain, and
  • it faced the sun most of the day.

 


It started as an idea to draw sightseers. In 1923 state historian Doane Robinson suggested carving some giant statues in South Dakota's Black Hills. Robinson was not the first American to think that a big country demanded big art. As early as 1849, Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton proposed a super-scale Christopher Columbus in the Rocky Mountains. In 1886 the 150-foot Statue of Liberty was unveiled. Now, in the 1920s, an unconventional sculptor names Gutzon Borglum was carving a Confederate memorial on Stone Mountain in Georgia. Robinson wanted his sculptures to stand at the gateway to the west, where the Black Hills rise from the plains as a geographical prelude to the Rockies. Here, granite outcroppings resist erosion to form the Needles, cluster of tall, thin peaks reminiscent of the spires on a Gothic cathedral. Robinson imagined the Needles transformed into a parade of Indian leaders and American explorers who shaped the frontier. Robinson's own enthusiasm did not translate into public support. Many people were skeptical or downright hostile. "Man makes statues," proclaimed local conservationist Cora B. Johnson, "but God made the Needles." Undaunted, the memorial backers called in the master sculptor of Stone Mountain. In an era when many artists scorned traditional patriotism, Gutzon Borglum made his name through celebration of things American. As his style evolved, "American" came to mean "big." "Our age will some day be called the 'Colossal Age,' "complained Borglum, "There is not a monument in this country as big as a snuff box." Born in Idaho in 1867, this son of Danish Mormons studied art in Paris. Back home he worked in the shadow of his artist brother Solon even after several works brought Gutzon moderate fame. Among them were a remodeled torch for the Statue of Liberty, saints and apostles for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, a seated Lincoln in Newark, N.J. and an oversized Lincoln bust for the U.S. Capitol. In 1915 he began the Stone Mountain memorial which brought experience in large-scale granite carving - and in showmanship.

Borglum scouted out a location far better than the fragile Needles: 5,725-foot Mount Rushmore, named in 1885 for New York lawyer Charles E. Rushmore. Its broad wall of exposed granite faced southeast to receive direct sunlight for most of the day. Borglum's choice of subjects promised to elevate the memorial from a regional enterprise to a national cause, "in commemoration of the foundation, preservation and continental expansion of the United States." Borglum envisioned four U.S. presidents beside an entablature inscribed with a brief history of the country. In a separate wall behind the carved figures the Hall of Records would preserve national documents and artifacts.
President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the memorial in 1927, commencing 14 years of work; only 6 1/2 years were spent on actual carving. Money was the main problem in the Great Depression years. It was here that Gutzon Borglum's self-appraisal as a "one-man war" was earned. He personally lobbied state officials, congressmen, cabinet members and presidents. "The work is purely a national memorial," he insisted at a congressional hearing in 1938. Pride in country - and the fact that public works created good jobs and good will - channeled $836,000 of federal money toward to the total cost of nearly $1 million.




The Washington head was formally dedicated in 1930, followed by Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937 and Roosevelt in 1939. Borglum died in March 1941; the final dedication was not held until 50 years later. Son, Lincoln Borglum supervised the completion of the heads. Carving stopped in October 1941, on the eve of our entry into World War II. Gutzon Borglum himself might have commented that the time had come to defend the principles Mount Rushmore preserved in stone.

 


Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located along the northeast edge of what is known as the Harney Peak Granite Batholith in the Black Hills of South Dakota. A batholith is a geologic feature that formed by the cooling of a large igneous body of magma below the earth's surface; if a similar igneous body reaches the earth's surface, it would form a volcanic feature such as a lava flow. The Black Hills magma was emplaced into the older "host" mica schist rocks during Precambrian time, approximately 1.7 billion years ago!

The mica schist originated from the metamorphism (alteration by heat and pressure) of muds and sands from an ancient sea floor sometime prior to the emplacement of the Harney Peak Granite. Metamorphism of this original material produced the "slabby" appearance in the mica schist that now contains minerals such as muscovite, biotite and quartz.

The Harney Peak Granite (of which Mount Rushmore is carved) consists of fine-grained minerals including quartz, feldspar, muscovite and biotite. It is believed that these minerals formed approximately 8 miles below the earth's surface from molten magma. Some cracks developed as a result of the cooling of the magma and were later "patched" with molten magma. The result was the emplacement of pegmatite dikes that filled the fractures and zones of weakness in the granite. Today these pegmatite dikes are expressed as white streaks on the foreheads of Presidents Washington and Lincoln. Elsewhere in the Black Hills, economically significant mineral deposits are found associated with these pegmatite bodies.

The Harney Peak granite was likely exposed at the surface prior to Cambrian time, but was covered by sandy sediment when the Cambrian seas invaded the Black Hills some 550 million years ago. Today, these sands are part of the Deadwood Formation sandstones that contain grains derived from the ancient Harney Peak granite and the exposed Precambrian surface. The granite core of the Black Hills continued to be further buried during the rest of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras of geologic time and wasn't exposed to surface processes again until some 50 million years ago when today's Black Hills began to take on their present form.

Weathering and erosion have been carving these rocks since then, but the most noticeable "carving" occurred in the 20th century when Gutzon Borglum oversaw the project to construct Mount Rushmore as a "shrine to democracy".

The carvings occur within a granite sheet several hundred feet thick that has intruded the older schists. The irregular nature of the granite intrusion is noticeable just below the bust of George Washington, where the lighter colored granite sharply comes in contact with the darker schist.

 


Mount Rushmore represents the largest work of art on earth. Each face is 60 feet high, compared to the head on the Statue of Liberty, which is 17 feet tall. The presidents' noses are 20 feet long, each mouth is 18 feet wide, and each eye is 11 feet across. Had they been carved to their toes, the figures would have been 465 feet tall.

 


Washington - As "father of our country" and the nation's first president, George Washington earned his place as the foremost figure in the presidential portrait. Born in 1732 in Virginia, as a youth he surveyed what was then the western wilderness - Kentucky. At only 23 years of age, he commanded the Virginia militia, then served as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. He was a justice of the peace and then commander-in-chief of the Continental Army before assuming his most illustrious role as the first president of the United States.

Washington is remembered for helping the nation achieve its independence from England and for ensuring that Americans have a representative form of government.

Before sculpting his own vision of Washington, Borglum studied portraits by Rembrant Peale and Gilbert Stewart, as well as a life mask by French artist Antoine Houdon.

Jefferson - Born in 1743 to Virginia planters, at age 33 Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, giving the nation a plan for sovereignty and freedom. Jefferson also served as governor of his native state, as minister to France, and for four years as secretary of state under President Washington. From 1801 to 1809, he served two successful terms as the nation's third president.

Jefferson ultimately was included by Borglum because of his vision of an America that spanned from coast to coast. His unprecedented purchase of the vast Louisiana Territory, which more than doubled the size of the young nation, brought this dream closer to reality.

Borglum chose to render Jefferson as a young man, using the life mask created by American artist John H. I. Browere as his model. As depicted on Mount Rushmore, Jefferson is looking to the heavens, emphasizing his reputation as a visionary and philosopher.

Lincoln - Known as "The Great Emancipator," Abraham Lincoln, was born to impoverished parents in Kentucky's backwoods in 1809. Lincoln taught himself law, served seven years in the Illinois Legislature, then gained a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1858, Lincoln challenged the powerful Senator Stephen Douglas and - throug hwit and wisdom and a series of historic debates - won the admiration of the American people, though he lost the memorable senatorial election.

Elected president in 1860, Lincoln oversaw one of the most pivotal periods in American history, the Civil War. Through steadfast devotion to the nation, he successfully preserved the Union.
Lincoln was Borglum's favorite leader; in fact, the sculptor named his only son for the sixteenth president. After studying photographs and a life mask of Lincoln, Borglum chose to portray him with the beard and the determined look that he wore during his tenure in office.

Roosevelt -The only presidential selection to draw any measure of criticism was that of Theodore Roosevelt, the nation's twenty-sixth president.

Some academics argued that history had not yet judged the Roosevelt presidency (he had been dead only eight years). But Borglum believed Roosevelt's vision of America's role in the world community qualified him for the fourth place on the mountain. Roosevelt had realized the dream of Christopher Columbus by completing the Panama Canal and connecting the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

More significantly, Borglum identified with "T. R.'s" energy and charisma and saw him as the epitome of the American spirit. Borglum sculpted Roosevelt from memory, as he and "Teddy" were close friends and confidants before, during, and after Roosevelt's presidency.