Mount Rushmore 70 years of sculptured rock face

When master sculptor Gutzon Borglum, the son of Danish Mormons, was asked to carve a large statue onto a rock face in the Black Hills of South Dakota he chose 5,725-foot Mount Rushmore because its broad wall of exposed granite faced southeast to receive direct sunlight for most of the day.

Originally conceived by South Dakota historian Doane Robinson to increase tourism to the region, the project was able to proceed after getting backing from President Calvin Coolidge and receiving Congressional support.

After securing federal funding, construction on the memorial began in 1927, and the presidents’ faces were completed between 1934 and 1939. Upon Gutzon Borglum’s death in March 1941, his son Lincoln Borglum took over construction. Though the initial concept called for each president to be depicted from head to waist, lack of funding forced construction to end in October 1941.

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial features giant rock carvings, each 60 feet (18m) in height.  The Presidents that are represented on the mountain are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Over 400 workers helped Borglum to carve the sculptures, which are meant to represent the first 150 years of American history. These presidents were selected by Borglum because of their role in preserving the Republic and expanding its territory.  Not everything went to the original plan, for instance, the image of Thomas Jefferson was originally intended to appear in the area at Washington’s right, but after the work there was begun, the rock was found to be unsuitable, so the work on the Jefferson figure was dynamited, and a new figure was sculpted to Washington’s left.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the completion of the carvings, and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial now attracts 3 million visitors a year.  Whilst the sculptures are often referred to as carvings, about 90% of the work was achieved by using dynamite.

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is open every day of the year except for Christmas Day.  To get as much information about the sculptures as you can, you can join the guided ranger’s walks which last for 30 minutes.  The ranger will highlight the natural and cultural history of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills. This fully-accessible walk begins at the Grand View Terrace.

There is also the Sculptor’s Studio Talk during which you learn about the tools and techniques used in the carving of the mountain sculpture. Talks include stories from the workers, demonstrations of the tools and the artist’s working model.

If you prefer to wander around on your own, but still want to learn about the memorial, you can do the Audio Tour for which you rent an audio tour want to hear the story of Mount Rushmore through music, narration, interviews, historic recordings and sound effects while walking a scenic route around the park.

To reach the memorial by car visitors travelling on I-90 should exit at Rapid City and follow Highway 16 southwest to Keystone and then Highway 244 to Mount Rushmore. Visitors coming from the south should follow Highway 385 north to Highway 244, which is the road leading to the memorial.

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