The Years and Dedications (Six to date) in Mount Rushmore’s History | Black Hills Travel Blog

The Years and Dedications (Six to date) in Mount Rushmore’s History

Tuesday, August 21, 2018
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Just a few weeks ago, Mount Rushmore celebrated 90 years of history which probably confused 99% of the population (including myself). There have been a lot of important, or milestone, dates in it's fabled history. For most, it's the formal dedication and/or when work began in 1927 that's the milestone year most would compellingly yell in response to bar trivia about when Mount Rushmore was born. It was a memorable year for sure, but would be incorrect and with numerous dedications, its easy to get confused. The idea was conceived years before while 1925 is the official year of its "birth."

So with official word coming from the officers who work for the federal agency tasked with operating Mount Rushmore celebrating 90 years here in 2015. It got us wondering about all those important dates and also, how many official dedications have there been over the years.

The concept of Mount Rushmore dates back to 1923 when South Dakota State Historian Doane Robinson who had the original idea for Mount Rushmore. Known as the “Father of Mount Rushmore,” Robinson’s motivation was to create a monumental attraction in the Black Hills of South Dakota that would bring tourists from all over the country. His original idea was of a large-scale sculpture of Indian leaders and key early American explorers who helped discover the frontier.

When he reached out to artist Gutzon Borglum in 1924, by all accounts a very proud, headstrong man who luckily for Robinson and the state of South Dakota, was at odds with financiers on the Stone Mountain project in Georgia which he soon abandoned. It was Borglum’s idea to honor four great presidents instrumental in America’s early existence, along with a brief history of the country on an adjoining tablet. Borglum also envisioned his work as being the perfect place to store and preserve key documents and early-American artifacts, like the Declaration of Independence, in a Hall of Records to be built behind the faces.

The original plan was to carve in granite pillars known as the Needles located only miles away as the crow flies in current day Custer State Park. However, Borglum realized that the eroded Needles were too thin to support sculpting. He chose Mount Rushmore (named in 1885 for New York lawyer Charles Rushmore) because it had suitable stone for carving and faced southeast with maximum exposure to the sun. Borglum said upon seeing Mount Rushmore, "America will march along that skyline."

With a site and plans made, funding for the project was the last mountain to climb. Through the efforts of Robinson, Senator Peter Norbeck, Congressman William Williamson and local businessman John Boland, 85% of the project was funded by Congress. The total cost of the project was $989,992.32.

With memorial dedications started on the State level in March of 1925, work officially began on Mount Rushmore on October 4, 1927...almost a couple of months after a formal dedication on August 10, 1927 by President Coolidge. Mount Rushmore didn't become a National Memorial until the passing of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Act by Congress and signed by President Calvin Coolidge on Feb. 25, 1929.

Over the years, Borglum managed a crew of 400 workers (usually around 30 per year) as they sculpted the carvings of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.  The original design actually intended for Thomas Jefferson to appear on Washington’s right side, but once they had begun carving, it was determined that the section of rock was unsuitable. This area was then blasted off with dynamite and a new carving of Jefferson began on Washington’s left side.

Borglum’s original plans also intended for the carvings to be completed down to the waist of each president, and included a series of inscriptions pertaining to U.S. history that were to be carved into the mountain.

It took just under three years to finish George Washington’s face, which was dedicated on July 4, 1930. Thomas Jefferson was the next completed, with a dedication on August 30, 1939. The Abraham Lincoln figure was dedicated on September 17, 1937, and the Teddy Roosevelt figure was dedicated was on July 2, 1939.

Unfortunately, Gutzon Borglum died on March 6, 1941, and Gutzon’s son, Lincoln Borglum, finished supervising work on the mountain until it ended on October 31, 1941 with a declaration of its completion. Financing was dried up at this point and the monument was transferred to the control of the National Park Service. Amazingly, despite the unbelievable danger involved no one was killed and really there was only one notable injury over the course of the project.

On July 3rd, 1991 another dedication was held, as then President George H.W. Bush visited to officially dedicate the entire memorial and work as a whole. Not to confuse things, but the ceremony was held to mark the 50th anniversary. As we now know, that was the 50th anniversary of when work was completed on Mount Rushmore or maybe the last dedication ceremony.

But I certainly won't blame anyone for taking the chance to throw a party and show off the efforts. If I started carving a mountain and had it coming out close to an original vision, I too would be finding reasons to mark the occasion. It's a truly amazing work seen annually by almost three million visitors, they can dedicate however many times they would like.

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