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What Is Mount Rushmore?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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Mount Rushmore is a granite mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota that features the carvings of the likenesses of four presidents' heads. The carvings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt were done by sculptor Gutzon Borglum. The official name for Borglum's spectacular sculpture is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, but the name is commonly shortened.

The mountain was named after a lawyer, Charles E. Rushmore, who dealt with Black Hills mining claims in 1885. Borglum began work on the gigantic sculpture on 10 August 1927, and he chose the particular mountain he did both for the consistency of the granite and the direction of the sun as he worked. His sculpture took 14 years to carve, as he worked on the piece gradually.

Low funding and bad weather conditions forced Borglum to delay the work for long periods of time, but he worked on it whenever he could. The end cost of the carving was $900,000 US Dollars (USD). Borglum was an expert artist before beginning the project, and he studied under the famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin.

Mount Rushmore

The presidents carved on Mount Rushmore are said to symbolize American freedom and democracy. George Washington signifies the fight for independence, while Thomas Jefferson stands for the notion of a people's government. Abraham Lincoln symbolizes the concept of equality and the union of the states. Theodore Roosevelt represents the international importance of the United States in the 20th century.

Borglum's original plan was to carve the entire bodies of the presidents into the mountainside, but time and cost did not allow it. He carved Washington's head first, then Jefferson's and Lincoln's. The sculptor was nearly finished Roosevelt's head in 1941 when he died. Borglum's son finished Roosevelt's head to complete the monument later in 1941.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore was redeveloped in 1998 at a cost of $56 million USD. The Lincoln Borglum Museum shows a 13 minute film about the carving of the sculpture, and a hike on the Presidential Trail leads to the base of the mountain. The attraction includes dining venues, a bookstore, and a gift shop. Children's activities are available during certain times of the year. Each night, the mountain carvings are illuminated for a few hours after dusk.

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Discussion Comments

By julies — On Oct 17, 2012
I was in my 40s when I saw Mount Rushmore for the first time. We took our horses out to that area to ride on the equestrian trails. I knew we couldn't go that far without stopping to see Mount Rushmore.

I consider myself a patriotic person and was in awe at what I saw. It reminded me of what a great country we live in and how the leadership of the early presidents' helped shape our nation into what it is today.

By LisaLou — On Oct 17, 2012

I have been to Mount Rushmore national park more than once and am always fascinated with the area. Sometimes you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, but yet there are plenty of tourist attractions close by.

I remember taking in some other well known places as we made our trip to South Dakota. I remember stopping to see the Badlands and the Corn Palace and camping in Deadwood, South Dakota. Seeing Mount Rushmore was a highlight of the trip and I am still amazed that one man continued to persevere for 14 years to carve those four presidents' heads.

By golf07 — On Oct 16, 2012

When I saw Mount Rushmore, I especially enjoyed seeing the carvings lit up after it got dark. We didn't get there until later in the day, so stuck around until dark and that is a sight I will always remember. We were there in the middle of summer and it was really busy. There were a lot of families with young kids who really seemed to be enjoying themselves.

By myharley — On Oct 15, 2012

I remember taking a family vacation to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota when I was growing up. This was before the redevelopment in 1998 so I have no idea what has changed since I was there.

As a kid I don't think you really appreciate these pieces of history. It was kind of cool to see the faces of the presidents' in the rock, but other than that there really wasn't much else to see. I would have been more interested in going to Disneyland or something like that.

As an adult now, I would enjoy taking a trip to Mount Rushmore and would definitely enjoy and appreciate it much more than I did when I was younger.

By indigomoth — On Sep 10, 2012

@MrsPramm - Except that the carving of the Crazy Horse Memorial is very controversial. I mean, the mountains that they are carving all these sculptures in are considered to be sacred. It would be like deciding to carve up a church to prove a point. Except much worse.

Also, Crazy Horse was well known for disliking his image to be in the public eye. He didn't even like being photographed or painted. A massive statue tribute probably wouldn't be his first choice.

It makes me wonder what the men featured on Mount Rushmore would think of it.

By MrsPramm — On Sep 10, 2012

@bythewell - It's amazing looking at pictures of the mountain before he started carving. He actually didn't entirely do it by himself, if you are looking at the achievement of it in terms of labor. They used dynamite for one thing and there were hundreds of people working on the sculpture at a time. I mean, those things are gigantic, there's no way that a single person could have carved them by himself in that amount of time.

One of the sad things about the Mount Rushmore location is that it is in the middle of what is considered to be sacred Native American lands, and, of course, all those presidents presided over the seizing of those lands.

However, they are currently carving the face of a Native American leader into another nearby mountain, so hopefully that will help to redress some of the wrongs.

By bythewell — On Sep 09, 2012

I have still not seen Mount Rushmore, although I've been to a lot of other places in the States and it's definitely next on my list.

I'm not all that patriotic, but just as a piece of art and as a symbol for human endurance and ability I think it's worth seeing. I mean, there are some wonderful carvings in the sides of mountains out there, with the ancient city of Petra and the, now destroyed, Buddha statues in Afghanistan jumping to mind.

But I suspect most of those were completed by dozens of people over decades of time, while the carvings in Mount Rushmore were done basically by one man in less than two decades.

Getting to Mount Rushmore is difficult for me though, so I need to figure out a plan.

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