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VIDEO: Making Mount Rushmore

Get up close and personal with four presidents with video and now a new National Park Service app

Photo by Ed Menard Ranger, Courtesy of the National Park Service

If you’re lucky this Monday, January 21, you’ll be able to spot the president of the United States as he is sworn into office once more. But venture to South Dakota, and you can see four presidents at once. Not bad.

Mount Rushmore’s larger-than-life reliefs of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln receive more than two million visitors each year. But they weren’t even supposed to be the attraction when the project was first imagined in the 1920s by state historian Doane Robinson. Red Cloud, Lewis and Clark and Buffalo Bill Cody–these were the figures Robinson knew would attract visitors as heroes of the American West.

Borglum sculpting a model. Because of funding problems, only the presidents’ faces would be completed. Underwood & Underwood / Corbis

But he was persuaded to reconsider by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and helped the Danish-American sculptor start scouting for locations. Construction began in 1927 and came to a halt in 1941 due to a lack of funding.

This film from the Smithsonian’s Human Studies Film Archives shows scenes from the monument’s construction, including blasting off cliff face, scaffolding, men working and the completed monument.

To learn more about the history of Mount Rushmore, read Megan Gambino’s “The Making of Mount Rushmore,” which includes details about the extensive use of dynamite during construction as well as the controversy surrounding the site selection.

And to get up close and personal with the presidents, check out the National Park Service’s new app, created using 3-D laser scans of the entire structure.

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About Leah Binkovitz
Leah Binkovitz

Leah Binkovitz is a Stone & Holt Weeks Fellow at Washington Post and NPR. Previously, she was a contributing writer and editorial intern for the At the Smithsonian section of Smithsonian magazine.

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