Today in History: Mount Rushmore Carving Begins

Today in History: Mount Rushmore Carving Begins

The 14-year-long carving project of Mount Rushmore began on October 4, 1927, in the Black Hills near Keystone, South Dakota. The project, sometimes called the "Shrine of Democracy", was conceived by historian Doane Robinson in 1923. The project aimed to promote tourism in South Dakota. 

Robinson had sculptor Gutzon Borglum travel to the Black Hills region to ensure the carving could be accomplished. Borglum chose Mount Rushmore because its vast dimensions were suitable for his vision and because the mountain faced southeast, giving it maximum sun exposure.

On March 3, 1925, Federal legislation was passed by Congress authorizing the carving. The purpose of Mt. Rushmore State Park was stated as "the establishment of a memorial commemorative of our national history and progress". 

Carving began with a formal dedication by President Calvin Coolidge on August 10, 1927. During the next 14 years, the project employed over 400 workers in the 60-foot-high face carving of United States Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. 

According to the National Park Service, these four presidents were chosen by Borglum as they respectively represent the nation's birth, growth, development, and preservation.

The immense project mainly used dynamite to carve the shapes. After, a process called 'honeycombing' was used, where workers drilled holes in close proximity, allowing for easy removal of smaller pieces. Workers also used hand tools to add small details and smooth the stone. It is estimated that workers blasted around 410,000 tons of rock off the side of the mountain. 

The workers endured harsh weather conditions throughout the year and had to climb 700 stairs daily to the mountaintop. Once at the top, steel cables were used to lower workers in swings called Bosun chairs down the 500-foot face of the mountain. Miraculously, no workers died during the project, despite its dangers. 

The presidents' faces were uncovered and dedicated one by one: Washington in 1930, Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937, and Roosevelt in 1939. As intended, Mount Rushmore is incredible for tourism in South Dakota, attracting more than two million visitors annually.

There is also a hidden room on Mount Rushmore that most people do not know about. Borglum's initial plan was to build a 'Hall of Artifacts' inside the mountain to hold all the information about the mountain and the United States, including historical artifacts such as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

A lack of funding halted the project, with only a small portion of a tunnel built just behind Abraham Lincoln's head. The United States government demanded Borglum focus on finishing the faces instead. Borglum died three years later, without finishing the room or the faces. His son completed the project in the following seven months, putting the finishing touches on the monument.

The tunnel was ignored for decades until 1998, when the government placed a repository of records on the tunnel entrance floor. This repository consists of a teakwood box inside a titanium vault covered by a granite capstone. The following quote by Gutzon Borglum is etched on the capstone "...let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away."

The Hall of Records is closed to the public. It's intended as a record for future civilizations who may wonder why and how Mount Rushmore was carved.  

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