The Making of Mount Rushmore

The 70th anniversary of the completion of the South Dakota monument prompts a look back at what it took to create it

Ninety percent of Mount Rushmore was carved using dynamite. (Paul A. Souders / Corbis)

Selecting the Mountain

Mount Rushmore before carving
(National Park Service)
When Borglum was in South Dakota, Robinson took him to see the “needles.” But the sculptor felt that the granite spires were too spindly to carve. Even if he could feasibly do it, Borglum told Robinson, “Figures on those granite spikes would only look like misplaced totem poles. We will have to look farther.”

A year later, in 1925, Borglum scouted the area surrounding Harney Peak for a mountain or piece of granite that was solid enough to hold a figure. “As an artist, he was very interested in light and making sure that the morning sunrise hit the face of the granite,” says Bracewell. A state forester led Borglum on horseback to three mountains he thought would be appropriate—Old Baldy, Sugarloaf and finally Mount Rushmore.

From all accounts, it seems that Borglum fell for Mount Rushmore at first sight. Its 400-foot high and 500-foot wide east-facing wall would serve as the perfect carving block, according to the sculptor. Hours after he laid eyes on it, Borglum told the Rapid City Journal that there was “no piece of granite comparable to it in the United States.”

The following day, Borglum and a few others climbed Mount Rushmore, named after Charles Rushmore, an attorney who assessed mining claims in the area in the 1880s. Some members of the press and officials in Rapid City, the nearest population center about 25 miles northeast, were disappointed with Borglum’s selection, since it was in such a remote, roadless area of the state. But geologists approved. “They assured the sculptor that the ancient granite was extremely hard, and incredibly durable, and that the fissures were probably only skin deep,” wrote Gutzon’s son Lincoln Borglum and June Culp Zeitner in the 1976 book Borglum’s Unfinished Dream: Mount Rushmore.


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