Mount Rushmore is located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota in the Black Hills region near other major parks and historical sites. The monument consists of the faces of four US presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. The images are carved 60 feet high into the granite face of the mountain. The carving project started on October 4, 1927 and ended October 31.
Mount Rushmore was the brainchild of South Dakota State Historian, Doane Robinson. He was inspired by the carvings of faces of Confederate leaders on the side of Stone Mountain in Georgia. His first choice was to build the monument in the Needles Region of the Black Hills, but three things stopped him from doing so: Opposition from Native Americans and environmentalists, and the fact that the rock type was too fragile.
Although Doane Robinson was the one pushing for the monument, he lacked the skills required to see the project through to fruition. To oversee the project, he hired a sculptor named Gutzon Borglum. Borglum was also involved in the making of Stone Mountain, and it was he who decided to carve the likeness of the four presidents into Mount Rushmore. After his death in March 1941, his son oversaw the finishing touches of the carvings.
Borglum wanted Mount Rushmore to reflect what he considered to be the most important eras that had occurred in U.S. history up until the time the monument was built. He decided the best way to represent these eras was to use the likeness of the presidents who were the nation's leaders at the time. The eras represented by the mountain are the time of the nation's birth and creation, the time when the country was severely divided, and the time it started to come into its own as a great economic power.
George Washington was chosen because he represents the time of the country's founding when the colonists gained their independence from England. He was put in charge of the Continental Army where he earned the title of "Father of Our County." Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia which led to the creation of the U.S. Constitution. He also served as the first duly-elected president of the United States of America via the electoral college.
Thomas Jefferson's likeness is there because he was a principal author of the Declaration of Independence and he oversaw the Louisiana Purchase that doubled the size of the U.S. at the time during his presidency. He was the third duly-elected president from 1801-1809. Jefferson also served as John Adams vice president for four years before becoming president.
Abraham Lincoln presided over the greatest period of civil unrest in the United States. The country was embroiled in a Civil War and was tearing itself apart. Lincoln is credited with holding the country together after the "Confederate States of America" was formed to allow southern states to secede from the Union and for issuing the "Emancipation Proclamation" which freed all slaves on American soil.
Theodore Roosevelt came into the presidency during a time when the economic power in the U.S. was getting centralized within a few companies and families. Roosevelt led the fight against corporate greed and power by initiating his "Square Deal" to look out for the average person and to curtain the monopolies that were being created in different industries. Roosevelt was also chosen because of his role in developing the Panama Canal and his efforts to protect the environment for future generations of Americans.
The monument took four hundred workers to build. They would arrive at work and have to climb 700 stairs to reach the spot where they would clock in and begin the workday. Some workers would hang down on the side of the mountain in order to dynamite and carve out the work. About 90% of the monument was carved using dynamite while the rest was done using jackhammers and finishing tools. The workers would be lowered down the face of the mountain while sitting in bosun chairs connected to 3/8-inch cables. Other workers would use hand cranks to lower and raise the chairs.
Doane Robinson's idea worked. Roughly 3 million people per year travel to the Black Hills region in South Dakota to visit the monument. The busiest season runs from June to August, but there are also large crowds in late spring and early fall. The Presidential trail can get you up close to the mountain, and it is handicap accessible up until you get to the base of the sculptures. The parking lot and grounds are open year-round, but the visitor facilities are closed on Christmas Day.
The monument is expected to last a very long time. Unlike the type of rock in the Needles region, which was deemed by Robinson to be unsuitable for this type of project because it was too fragile, the granite on Mount Rushmore is extremely sturdy. It erodes at a rate of about an inch every 10,000 years and it is estimated it will take over 7 million years before the last remnants of the images fade away from the face of the mountain.