The likenesses of the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are carved into the southeast face of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, serving as a memorial to American history and a reminder that even the seemingly impossible can be possible.
South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson conceived the idea in 1923, to attract more people to the Black Hills of South Dakota with colossal carvings of western heroes. Robinson gained support from major political forces in South Dakota and Washington, D.C.
The original site of carving was determined to be unfit and a new site had to be found. It was then they were told about Mount Rushmore. When Borglum saw the mountain he pointed to it and said, "America will march along that skyline." He liked Mount Rushmore because it faced southeast which meant it would receive good light throughout most of the day.
It was the highest peak in the immediate vicinity, and the granite was very resistant, eroding only one inch every 10,000 years. It was decided that they would need subjects of national focus and familiarity, and selected the four presidents as "representing America."
In October 1927, the first actual work of carving began. Dynamite was used to remove rock from the mountain until there was only a thin, three to six inch layer of granite left. This final layer of granite was removed by a process called "honeycombing". Then the surface was worked smooth with a bumper tool, leaving the faces smooth.
They began working on Mount Rushmore with George Washington. His head was carved first and his features added later. Thomas Jefferson was started on Washington's right, but after about two years of working on Jefferson, the granite was found to be badly cracked that his image had to be blasted off the mountain, and started again on the left side of Washington.
In 1933, the Memorial came under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Julian Spotts, a National Park Service engineer, was sent to the site to work with Borglum. Spotts made some suggestions on a few of the technical aspects, and upgraded the tram to the top of Mount Rushmore so workers could get up and down the mountain safely, conveniently, and quickly.
Washington's image was dedicated on July 4, 1934. Local women from Rapid City made a 39-by-70-foot flag to cover the face before it was revealed to the public. Thomas Jefferson was dedicated in 1936 with President Franklin Roosevelt attending the dedication. Franklin Roosevelt had no intention of speaking at the dedication but was inspired by what he saw, and gave a brief speech.
Abraham Lincoln was dedicated on September 17, 1937, the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. In 1939, Theodore Roosevelt’s figure was dedicated. As the flag was removed from Roosevelt's face, the newly installed lights slowly illuminated it followed by fireworks and rockets that lit up the sky.
The work on the mountain continued for two more years, while details and finishing touches were made. In March of 1941, Borglum suddenly died from an embolism. His son, Lincoln, took over the project for the next seven months, until funding ran out. The carving of Mount Rushmore was shut down and the presidential faces were complete as they stood.
Carving the faces of four of America's greatest presidents on Mount Rushmore had seemed almost impossible, but the Mount Rushmore National Memorial shows that almost nothing is impossible.
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