Mount Rushmore is the largest monument in the world. The sculpture represents the faces of four American presidents; Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, which represent the first 150 years of the country’s history.

Mount Rushmore in the Snow

Story

Mount Rushmore stands as a “shrine to democracy” in South Dakota. It commemorates the tenure of four U.S. presidents, specifically typifying the first 150 years of U.S. history. It is a granite sculpture by Gutzon Borglum.

The history of Mount Rushmore dates back to 1923. Another reason for choosing the area was because of its location.

Mount Rushmore

The mountain “faces” southeast, which meant it would have sunlight for most of the day. It was also the highest peak in the region and was made of granite, which made it more resistant to erosion. Borglum used an ancient Greek method to begin the work. The work began on October 4, 1927.

The election of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln was very quick, as each represented a specific role in the preservation and expansion of their territory.

Washington brought democracy to the United States, Thomas Jefferson came up with the concept of having a “government of the people”, Abraham Lincoln was instrumental in ending slavery in America, and Theodore Roosevelt led in trade reforms.

To realize the sculpture on the mountain, several scale models were first made in plaster, which are still preserved and are the work of Gutzon Borglum. These models and the tools used to make them are still preserved in the Mount Rushmore Memorial Museum.

The monument is world famous and has been the setting for numerous films, the most famous appearance being in Alfred Hitchcock’s film, “With Death at our Heels”. Each face reaches 18 meters in height.

Each nose measures 6 meters, the mouths measure 5 and ½ meters, and the eyes measure more than three meters each. It is estimated that, if they had been scaled bodies, they would measure 140 meters in height.

To sculpt them, 450,000 tons of rock had to be removed with explosives, pneumatic drills and chisels. The 400 workers hired to build the monument were miners or quarry workers, and although they were accustomed to explosives, they were not used to climbing a 1,800-meter mountain.

At times they had to tie themselves to a swing-like element, and one worker would walk backwards along the precipice while another would release cable with a winch. The contours of the faces were sculpted by drilling in grids and chiseling out the rock.

The work took fifteen years to complete, several of which were spent raising funds for the project. Borglum and Robinson, along with two Dakota senators convinced Congress to provide $250,000.00 to begin carving.

It eventually ended up costing nearly a million dollars. Work continued throughout the 1930s, with pauses forced by lack of funds or adverse weather conditions. By 1941, the year in which Borglum died, the sculptor was almost finished, and after his death Lincoln Borglum, his son, who had been working on Mount Rushmore since he was 15 years old, took charge of the work.

The figures, built in plaster, represent a great tourist attraction in the area, especially since ten years ago was remodeled the territory where they are built, facilitating access to visitors, as we can comfortably access to the statues and enjoy magnificent views, especially from the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

The place is a beloved site among Americans and has appeared in numerous American films and series such as Superman II or Family Guy. Another curiosity is that the well-known pop group Deep Purple used the image for the cover of the album In Rock.

Another of the charms that we find in the area is to walk through Mount Rushmore National Park, which has an area of over 5 square kilometers, and where we can enjoy a wide and varied range of plant and animal life.

Access to the area is free, both to see the sculptures and to go to the National Park. The monument serves as home to many animals and plants representative of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Geologic formations in the interior of the region are also evident, including large granite and mica outcroppings. The rock formation is carved into a sacred site of the native Lakota tribe. A Crazy Horse Memorial, (Crazy Horse Monument), begun in 1948, is currently being carved near South Dakota. Mount Rushmore was named a national monument on March 3, 1925.

In 1991, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the completion of the work, the government undertook a plan to restore it, for which it allocated a budget of forty million dollars. The care and cleaning of this sculpture Mount Rushmore is still a challenge because it requires climbing the mountain to clean each of the sculptures.

In 2008 the faces of Mount Rushmore were cleaned for the first time with pressurized water, the maintenance of the sculptures performed free of charge by Alfred Kaercher Gmb & Co, a German company.

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

The conservation of the monument, however, is continuous by removing lichen and dirt only by means of climbing. Today, Mount Rushmore has new facilities, as well as sidewalks and footpaths for pedestrians, who will be able to observe the majesty of these sculptures, no less than from Abraham Lincoln.

How the effigies were sculpted

Four gigantic faces look out over the horizon from the side of a granite mountain in South Dakota, USA. If the bodies were also sculpted, each figure would be about 140 m tall.

They are the faces of four former presidents of that country, carved into the top of Mount Rushmore with pneumatic drills and dynamite by men perched on the edges of the hillside. The imposing work took 14 years to complete, and was directed by John Gutzon Borglum,(pictured below) a famed American sculptor of Danish origin.

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

The sculpted mountain is a national monument, and the four characters, chosen to represent the ideals of the nation, are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

The idea of erecting the monument came from historian Doane Robinson in 1923, who proposed that effigies of heroes such as Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill be sculpted on granite columns called the Needles located in the same area as Mount Rushmore. But Borglum felt that neither the columns nor the project were appropriate, as he felt strongly that the work should be of national significance.

Sculptor John Gutzon Borglum built his working models on a scale of 1:12 (one inch on these would equal one foot on the rock). His son Lincoln Borglum measured Jefferson’s model to make the transfer to Mount Rushmore.

Once on top of it, he helps operate a machine to measure and mark the drill points. The monument was sculpted between 1927 and 1941 at a cost of $990,000, mostly federal funds.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD

The sculpture itself took 6.5 years to complete, but work was slow due to financial problems in the early years, as well as weather factors. Most of those who sculpted the faces were miners or quarry workers in the region, and during those 14 years some 360 employees worked in teams of 30 people on average.

Planning the heads

Borglum chose Mount Rushmore, 1,745 m high, because of its fine-grained granite, but it was still necessary to remove tons of stone to expose the right rock; for Washington’s head about 9 m were roughed out, and for Roosevelt’s about 37 m. Some 450,000 tons of rock were removed in the course of the work and are still at the foot of the mountain.

Borglum decided to sculpt head by head, starting with Washington’s; he made a 1.5 m high plaster model of it (1/12 of the size the real one would have been), on the top of which he fixed a flat plate marked in degrees.

Mount Rushmore Avenue of Flags

In the center of this and on a pivot he then mounted a 76 cm. long horizontal steel bar graduated in inches, and from the bar he suspended a plumb bob also marked in inches. By rotating the bar and moving the plumb bob to any point on the face, such as a nostril, the necessary measurements could be made.

To transfer the measurements from the model to the mountain, a similar mechanism 12 times larger was installed on top of the mountain at the point chosen for the top of Washington’s head.

Borglum called the artifact an indicating machine, and the men in charge of measuring, indicators.

Carving the rock

After the points were chosen, the rock was drilled to the depth marked by the indicator to place dynamite in the holes and blast about six inches out of the rock.

The drilling had to be very precise, because too deep a cut would remove too much rock and it would not be possible to replace it. Each driller worked tied to a leather seat hanging from a cable connected to a winch, with a drill weighing 39 kg hanging from the same cable.

Mount Rushmore, Süddakota, USA

The winch operator was positioned at a point from which he could not see the driller, so a boy attached with a safety device was placed on the edge of the boulder to relay messages between them.

Working while hanging some 76 m from the top was not easy, so to get enough pressure when drilling, the drillers first had to reach a length of chain and pass it behind the seat; they then fastened the chain with steel nails into the rock.

Heads of state The faces of four former U.S. presidents were carved into Mount Rushmore: (from left to right) George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Drill bits were dulled every 1 5 minutes, and every day a blacksmith had to sharpen hundreds of them. As the drillers moved from one point on the mountain to another, the blasters would stick the charges into the holes; detonations occurred twice a day: at lunchtime and at the end of the workday.

To cut and carve the stone to its final dimensions, the drillers made rows of small holes close together so that the final layer could be removed with wedges and steel hammers, and then “smoothed” the surface with special drills. Borglum decided to sculpt head by head, starting with Washington’s; he made a 1.5 m high plaster model of it (1/12 of the size the real one would have been), on the top of which he fixed a flat plate marked in degrees.

Setbacks

Washington’s head was completed in 1930, and work on Jefferson’s head began immediately. It was begun to the left of the former (from the viewer’s perspective), but in 1934 a layer of poor quality rock appeared, forcing the destruction of the incomplete head and the relocation of the sculpture to the right of Washington’s head.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD

As the rock on the other side had large fissures, 18 m had to be roughed out to reach the right layer, leaving just enough thickness between the boulder and the deep canyon behind it. But a fracture where the nose would go forced Borglum to alter the angle of the head, and other minor cracks were filled with a mixture of linseed oil, white lead and powdered granite.

Jefferson’s head also has the only patch that was needed in the entire work: in sculpting the upper lip a feldspar vein appeared that could not be carved out, so it was removed and a hollow about 60 cm. long and 25 cm. deep was left. Two steel nails were placed at the base of the cavity to hold a granite plug fixed with molten sulfur.

Piece of Art

Each head is 18 m tall and, on average, the nose of each is 6 m long, the mouth 5.5 m wide and the eyes 3.4 m from one end to the other.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

To give character and expression to the faces on that scale required a masterful touch: Borglum gave the eyes a sparkle of life by leaving a column of granite about 56 cm long as a pupil, which the sunlight makes stand out against the shadow it forms. Borglum died on March 6, 1941 at the age of 73, shortly before the monument was completed.

The finishing touches were supervised by his son Lincoln, (pictured left) who as a teenager had worked as a marker at the beginning of the project.