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Whose Faces are on Mount Rushmore?

Whose Faces are on Mount Rushmore?
Mount Rushmore attracts approximately three million people every year, making this Shrine of Democracy a monumental destination. People visit this site to personally see and witness this humongous mountain carving of great leaders and to appreciate the sculptor's ability to think big.
Prabhakar Pillai
Last Updated: May 31, 2018
"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."
- Gutzon Borglum (sculptor)

The idea of having famous and inspirational faces carved on a mountainside was first conceptualized by Doane Robinson, who was the state historian of South Dakota. He conceived the thought in 1923, to attract more people to South Dakota with gigantic carvings of western heroes like Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, John Fremont and George Armstrong Custer near the area known as the Needles. Gutzon Borglum, who was to sculpt these heroes, inspected the area and found it to be unfit for carving, and convinced Robinson that the carvings of National heroes on Mount Rushmore would be ideal for both tourism and as a base for patriotism.

Not many people know that Mount Rushmore was an incomplete monument. The Sculptor's Studio displays Borglum's original working model, that shows the full bust of these presidents rather than just their faces. But when Borglum ran out of quality granite, and the project ran out of money, the plan was dismissed. Interestingly, Mount Rushmore was originally known as 'Six Grandfathers' to the Sioux community. It got its present name from an esteemed New York lawyer, Charles E. Rushmore, who was inspecting the legal aspects of the properties situated in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Gutzon Borglum described the illustrious Mount Rushmore, saying, "Hence, let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the works of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away."

Why were these Four Presidents Preferred?

Robinson and Borglum envisioned heroes who displayed exceptional courage, nobility and strength. Someone who fought for a cause, for freedom and equality. These four former United States Presidents were chosen to honor them for their outstanding contributions and patriotic guidance.

George Washington was selected because he was regarded as the father of the United States and represented its struggle for independence, its constitution and its liberty. He once said, "Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth."

Thomas Jefferson
was honored as the author of the Declaration of Independence, a representative government, and for the expansion of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase. He used to say, "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action, according to our will, within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others."

Theodore Roosevelt was selected because he saw through the completion of the Panama Canal, linking the two oceans and opening the connecting waters of the East and the West. He once said, "It is not what we have, that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it."

Abraham Lincoln was chosen for preserving the Union through one of America's darkest hours and for the ideals of freedom and equality for all. He left us saying, "I leave you, hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal."

The Nitty-Gritty's of Mount Rushmore
  • Doane Robinson gained support from major players in South Dakota and Washington D.C. with the help of Senator Peter Norbeck and Congressman William Williamson. The US Congress passed legislation authorizing the mountain carving in Harney National Forest Preserve (now Black Hills National Forest) which is located in the southwestern part of South Dakota.
  • Four hundred workers were employed, machines were set up and facilities were developed. Borglum began carving the mountain on October 4, 1927.
  • The work was initiated with the face of George Washington followed by Thomas Jefferson on Washington's right side. After around two years of working on Jefferson's face, the granite was found to be badly cracked and Jefferson's face had to be blasted off the mountain. Jefferson was started again on the left side of Washington.
  • The four faces were completed and unveiled one by one for the public, beginning with President George Washington's face, which was finished in the year 1934. President Thomas Jefferson's face followed in the year 1936, with President Abraham Lincoln being completed in the year 1937, and finally President Theodore Roosevelt in the year 1939.
  • All the other Presidents' noses were carved 20 feet long, except George Washington's nose, which was carved 21 feet long.
  • After the death of Gutzon Borglum, it was his son Lincoln Borglum who added final touches and completed the memorial on October 31, 1941.
  • To help preserve this landmark - in the year 2005, Karcher's (a German company known for its superior pressure washers) were selected to clean and remove lichen, algae, moss that were present on Mount Rushmore. The cleaning was carried out solely with hot water. No chemicals were used.
Today, many visitors are emotionally evoked at the mere sight of this magnificent monument, carved in hard granite. Gutzon Borglum once told his son Lincoln that, "Nothing but the Almighty can stop me from completing this task.", showing his determination and ability to think big.

So, what does Mount Rushmore mean to you? If important figures of today were to be carved, whose faces would you choose and why?