If you haven’t been to Mount Rushmore, carving faces in the mountain may seem like a rather far fetched idea. What would possess a person to think of making huge carvings into the side of a mountain? It is not until you see the mountain involved, and recognize that the shape of the huge granite mountains in this area almost look as though they have shapes and even faces in them, that the idea makes sense. Look at the image included with this article, and to the right of the picture you can see how the mountain seems to naturally have meaningful shapes.
Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota was designed from the beginning as a tourist attraction. There was no historic reason for building it, except that Doane Robinson wanted to attract people from all over the country to his state. In 1924 he invited Gutzon Borglum, who was carving the face of Robert E. Lee at Stone Mountain, Georgia, to go to South Dakota and discuss the idea of carving the mountain.
Between 1927 and 1941, about 400 people worked on the carving, and even though it was dangerous, careful control of the process and planning prevented any loss of life. There were plans to carve more than just the heads of the presidents, but time, and especially funding, made that impractical.
Mount Rushmore is part of the National Park Service. According to their website, the choice of presidents was left to the sculptor, Borglum, who stated, “The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.” Thomas Jefferson was intended to be to Washington’s right, but the rock was found to be unsuitable, so the Jefferson figure was begun again to Washington’s left.
Here are the reasons given for the choice of these four presidents.
George Washington. As the first president, he led the war for independence. As the father of the new country, he is the most prominent figure on the mountain.
Thomas Jefferson. The third president, he was the author of the Declaration of Independence, which inspires democracies around the world. He also purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 which doubled the size of the country, adding parts of fifteen present-day states.
Theodore Roosevelt. The 26th president believed that, “The first requisite of a good citizen in this Republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight – that he shall not be a mere passenger.” In no way could Theodore Roosevelt be a mere passenger in any undertaking. He was instrumental in negotiating the construction of the Panama Canal, linking the east and the west.
Abraham Lincoln. The 16th president. He held the nation together during the Civil War.
The project of carving the memorial at Mount Rushmore has been an issue with the Native Americans of the area, because the territory was taken from the Lakota tribe after the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877. The Black Hills had been given to the Lakota “in Perpetuity” but was taken back. The Black Hills are still an area in dispute. A memorial to Crazy Horse is being constructed nearby in the Black Hills, with private support and that of the Lakota chiefs, although not with the support of all the Native American groups. It is larger than the sculpture at Mount Rushmore, and is being built with no federal funds.
Whether controversial or not, the carving of the presidents into Mount Rushmore accomplished the goal. Each year thousands of Americans take a detour on their road trips across America to stand in awe of this huge memorial to American ingenuity.
Sources: National Park Service. Personal Experience.