“Great scheme you have; hold to it,” sculptor Gutzon Borglum telegrammed Doane Robinson, director of the South Dakota Historical Society. It was a simple plan, just the faces of a few heroes of the West sculpted into the Black Hills — Lewis and Clark, maybe a Sioux chief, and other men like them. It might bring tourists into the region. But by the time the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission was authorized on March 3, 1925, Borglum had a vision of his own.
Such a lofty mountain as Mount Rushmore was worthy of something more than just a state monument; it was worthy something the whole country could appreciate. George Washington had to be on the mountain, unquestionably. Abraham Lincoln seemed another fitting choice. After some thought, Borglum chose Thomas Jefferson because of his connection with the Louisiana Purchase (of which South Dakota was a part). President Calvin Coolidge suggested adding Theodore Roosevelt to commemorate the National Park service, and since Roosevelt was a hero of Borglum’s, he readily agreed.
By August, 1927, all necessary approval had been granted. Borglum and his crew of 400 threw themselves into their work. They grew so skillful with the use of dynamite as they progressed that they could utilize it in delicate situations with amazing success, and without the loss of a single life. Slowly the four faces appeared. Washington was dedicated on July 4, 1930. Jefferson, after having to be blasted off and restarted, made his debut on August 30, 1936. Lincoln’s ceremony followed on the 150th anniversary of the Constitution, September 17, 1937. Finally, Roosevelt was dedicated on July 2, 1939.
Even after the dedications Borglum continued work on the sculptures. He wanted to depict the presidents down to the waist, but funding for such a massive undertaking was hard to come by during the Great Depression. Borglum died in March, 1941, without seeing his monument completed. His son carried on for him, but Congress declared Mount Rushmore finished seven months later.
Yet Borglum probably wouldn’t consider the project a failure. A thriving park has developed around the monument, and two million people visit it annually. It is undoubtedly one of the best-known attractions in the country.
Mt. Rushmore National Memorial
Basic information from Enchanted Learning.
The Making of Mt. Rushmore: Finding a Sculptor
How Borglum was selected. From the Smithsonian.
The Making of Mt. Rushmore: Selecting the Mountain
Why Mt. Rushmore was selected for the project. From the Smithsonian.
The Making of Mt. Rushmore: The Carving Process
Fascinating description and video of how the faces were carved into the mountain.
Mt. Rushmore Timeline
From PBS’s American Experience.
Old footage of the building of Mt. Rushmore.
Mt. Rushmore Home Movies
Sculpting process and workers in action from the Borglum family.
Speech Delivered by President Coolidge
Transcript of August 10, 1927, speech at cornerstone dedication.
President Roosevelt’s Remarks at the Unveiling of the Head of Thomas Jefferson
Transcript of August 30, 1936.
Caring for a Monumental Sculpture
What it takes to keep it up. From The National Park Service.
Mt. Rushmore Deconstructed
Interesting facts in this fast-paced video. (Suggest muting the music if it becomes annoying.)
Google Map Mt. Rushmore
View Mt. Rushmore from the air. You can also tour the site using the map tools.
Interactive feature with fun facts from The American Experience (PBS).
Units & Lesson Plans
Mt. Rushmore Teacher’s Guide
Learning suggestions for civics, history, economics and geography tie-ins. From The American Experience (PBS).
The Presidents of Mt. Rushmore
Core Knowledge lesson plan with a focus on the four presidents. Printables at the end would work well for a Mt. Rushmore notebook for younger students.
Mt. Rushmore Student Guide (.pdf)
From the National Park Service
Mt. Rushmore Page
Customizable notebooking page.
Mt. Rushmore Map
Ready to print and suitable for notebook.