Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Site Information

Country: United States of America
State: South Dakota
Location: 43° 52' 37" N - 103° 27' 20" W
Field Documentation Date(s): To be determined
Project Release Date(s): January 10th, 2012
Time Range: 1927 CE - Present
Culture: American
Site Authority: National Park Service
world map with location

Introduction Video of Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Site Description


"The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt." - Gutzon Borglum

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is host to almost three million visitors a year from across the country and around the world. They come to marvel at the majestic beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota and to learn about the birth, growth, development, and preservation of our country. Over the decades, Mount Rushmore has grown as a symbol of America - a symbol of freedom and hope for people from all cultures and backgrounds.

All the cultures that make up the fabric of this country are represented by the memorial and surrounding Black Hills. One of the most important gifts we can give our visitors at Mount Rushmore National Memorial is an understanding and love for our nation's history and cultures and an appreciation of the importance of caring for that legacy.
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Historic aerial photograph of Mount Rushmore under construction



The Black Hills

The Black Hills, known as Paha Sapa (hills that are black) are sacred to the Sioux. Throughout the centuries, many tribal nations lived and traveled within reach of what would become the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The first European explorers to see the Black Hills were probably Francis and Louis-Joseph Verendrye. These French explorers were traveling through South Dakota near the Missouri River. The exact route they were using is unknown, but according to Louis-Joseph's journal, on New Year's Day in 1743, they were on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River and were " sight of mountains." It was reported that their American Indian guides would not take them any closer to the mountains because hostile bands of Indians were known to live there.

Lewis and Clark heard tales about the Hills from other traders and trappers, but it wasn't until 1823 that Jedediah Smith and a group of about 15 traders actually traveled through them. While fur trade was at its peak, the Black Hills were explored to some extent by adventuresome trappers, but because the hills were considered sacred by the Lakota, most trappers avoided the area. Several reports of the discovery of gold in the "Black Hills" were heard during this time. However, the exact location where the gold was discovered was often confusing because the Laramie Range in Wyoming was also occasionally called the "Black Hills."

As immigration across the continent increased there was a marked decline in American Indian-white relations. The Army established outposts nearby, but they seldom entered the Black Hills, thinking that doing so would surely cause trouble.

Trouble, however, was already brewing. Bands of Lakota reportedly raided settlements and then retreated to the cover of the Hills. Because of this, Lt. G.K. Warren was assigned the task of making a thorough reconnaissance of the plains of South Dakota, including the area known as the Black Hills. The study of the area was supplemented by another reconnaissance in 1859-60 by Capt. W.F. Reynolds and Dr. F.V. Hayden.

In 1861, residents of what is now Eastern South Dakota were organizing groups of miners and explorers to investigate the Hills and reports of gold found there. In 1865 they asked Congress for a military reconnaissance to do a geological survey on the Black Hills. The military recognized the importance that the Lakota Nations attached to the area, and in 1867 Gen. William T. Sherman stated that the Army was not in any position to investigate the Black Hills and would not protect any civilians who did so.

Pressure to move into the Hills was temporarily halted in 1868 when the land west of the Missouri was granted to the Lakota in an effort to bring about a lasting peace with the tribes of the plains. The treaty prohibited settlers or miners from entering the Hills without authorization. In return, the Lakota agreed to cease hostilities against pioneers and people building the railroads.

In 1870 stories continued to circulate in Eastern South Dakota about gold and other wealth to be had in the Hills. The citizens of Yankton again pressed for an expedition. The Army and the Department of the Interior tried to discourage any entry into the Hills.

American Indian raids and constant pressure from the citizens of Yankton caused General Phillip Sheridan to propose an expedition to investigate the possibility of establishing a fort in the Black Hills. The Army suggested a fort to aid in controlling the bands of American Indians who would raid settlements and then return to the Hills to hide. The expedition, led by Lt. Col. George A. Custer left from Fort Lincoln rather than Fort Laramie because of the large concentration of American Indians at Fort Laramie and the trouble that such an expedition would have caused.

The purpose of Custer's expedition was to find a suitable location for a fort. However, for unexplained reasons, a geologist and several miners were included in the party. The miners occupied their time searching for gold, and on July 30, near the present-day town of Custer, their efforts were rewarded.

After Custer's report of gold in the Hills, the citizens of Yankton again petitioned the government to open the Hills. The government held firm to the position that the Hills belonged to the Lakota. This did not stop the rush of hopeful miners. The first group to reach the Hills was the Gordon Party. Originally lead by Thomas Russell and later by John Gordon, the party consisted of 28 adventurers including Annie Tallent (Tallent is credited with being the first white woman in the Black Hills). They were soon forced to leave by the Army. During the winter of 1874 and 1875 the Army tried to keep miners and settlers out, but by spring they found the task to be impossible.

In 1875 another expedition organized by the Army entered the Hills to determine its true mineral value. Walter Jenney reported gold could be extracted with sophisticated equipment, but individual miners would have a hard time of it.

By 1875 Col. Richard I. Dodge estimated 800 white men were mining or residing in the Hills. Mining camps were established near Custer, Hill City and Deadwood. As old claims played out, new ones were found and towns died or were born almost overnight. By 1876, approximately 10,000 people populated the Hills.

In the spring of 1875 the federal government attempted to solve the problem of ownership of the Hills by inviting American Indian leaders to Washington D.C.. The American Indians refused all offers and would not relinquish ownership of the land. Some of the Indian wars that followed were a result of these problems.

The ownership of the Black Hills is still in question. A 1980 Supreme Court decision that attempted to settle the issue by paying the Lakota tribes for the land was not accepted by the Lakota as many of them are still trying to gain ownership of the land sacred to them.

Mount Rushmore

Getting the sculpting project underway was a challenge all by itself. Once State Historian Doane Robinson and others found a sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, they had to get permission to do the carving. Senator Peter Norbeck and Congressman William Williamson were instrumental in getting the legislation passed to allow the carving. Williamson drafted two bills, one each, to be introduced to Congress and the State Legislature. The bill, requesting permission to use federal land for the monument, was easily passed. The bill sent to the State of South Dakota was not going to be as easy. The Mount Harney National Memorial bill was defeated twice and almost a third time when, on March 5, 1925 Governor Gunderson signed the bill. The Mount Harney Memorial Association was established by the Governor later that summer.

Early in the project money was hard to find despite Borglum's promise that eastern businessmen would gladly make large donations. He also promised the people of South Dakota that they would not be responsible for paying for any of the mountain carving. In the summer of 1927, President Calvin Coolidge was in the Black Hills, and Borglum was planning a formal dedication of the mountain. Borglum hired a plane to fly over the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park where Coolidge was staying. As he flew by, Borglum dropped a wreath to invite the President to the dedication ceremony. Fortunately, Coolidge agreed to attend. On August 10, 1927 Mount Rushmore was formally dedicated. At the dedication ceremony President Coolidge gave a speech and promised federal funding for the project.

A meeting was arranged for Borglum to meet with the Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon. Mellon's approval would be critical to the passage of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Act through both houses of Congress. Borglum convinced Mellon of the project's importance. Mellon was willing to fund the entire project but Borglum said he would need only half the money from the government on a matching basis. The rest, he said, he could raise privately. Senator Norbeck was stunned that Borglum would turn down full funding.

President Coolidge signed the bill authorizing federal funding. The Rushmore bill authorized government matching funds up to $250,000.00 and created the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission with 12 members appointed by the President. Coolidge appointed ten of the twelve members and said Hoover should appoint the other two.

When Hoover took office, he quickly appointed the final two members to the commission but did not meet with the Commission. The Commission had to meet with the President to begin work. Congressman Williamson was asked to make an appointment with the President, asking him to organize the Commission meeting. Frustrated by the slow pace, Borglum decided he would try to get in to see the President himself. When he got to the White House, he got into an altercation with the President's secretary and Williamson's appointment was cancelled. Eventually, Williamson got in to see the President, convinced him of the importance of the project and getting the first meeting of the Commission set up. Hoover met with the Commission within a couple of days. Officers were elected and on the day following the meeting, Williamson and Boland, the secretary of the executive committee, went to Mellon and received the first funding from the government. Mellon gave them $54,670.56 to match funds already spent by the Mount Harney Association.

One notable exclusion from the new Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission was Doane Robinson. The father of the project was not even put on the list of potential candidates to serve on the committee to be selected by the President. Robinson continued to support the project and generously offered, "Let me help where I can." Soon, feeling unneeded, Robinson moved away from the Rushmore project.

The Commission was organized and money was in the bank; work on the mountain could begin in earnest. Workers were hired, machinery was installed, and facilities were developed. In the 1930's Norbeck managed to get emergency relief funds through the New Deal and get those funds matched by the Rushmore Appropriation.

In 1933 a major change developed with the signing of Executive Order 6166 by President Franklin Roosevelt. Mount Rushmore was placed under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Borglum did not like being under the "watchful eye of the government." Julian Spotts, an engineer by training, was sent by the National Park Service to assist with the work. Spotts made improvements that made work on the mountain more efficient and easier on the workers.

In 1938 Borglum removed all roadblocks to his complete control over the Rushmore project. At this time the Mount Rushmore Memorial Commission was reorganized, and new members who allowed Borglum complete control over almost everything were named. Borglum wanted to create the Hall of Records, a large repository carved into the side of the canyon behind the carving of the presidents to tell the story of Mount Rushmore and America. Work was stopped in 1939 when there was a threat of losing funding for the entire sculpture if the money was not used exclusively on the carving of the faces as was originally intended. Work on the Hall of Records stopped and was never started again.

For the final two years of the project, Lincoln, Borglum's son, was in charge while Gutzon was constantly trying to get more money for the project. In March of 1941, as a final dedication was being planned, Gutzon Borglum died. With the artist gone and the impending involvement of America in World War II, finishing work on Mount Rushmore drew to a close. On October 31, 1941 the monument was declared complete.

Receiving permission to do the carving, finding funding, and managing personalities were all a part of the challenge to establish Mount Rushmore National Memorial. At times, it seemed harder to keep the project going than it was to do the colossal carving of the four presidents. In the end, cool heads, charm, and determination saw the memorial through to the end. Since, Mount Rushmore National Memorial has become a great icon of American history.

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Transition image of the four presidents of Mount Rushmore and the scanning team, created from photography and laser scan data

Project Narrative


The field documentation at Mount Rushmore, including geo-referenced laser scanning and photography, took place in May of 2010. Teams from CyArk, Historic Scotland and the Glasgow School of Art (CDDV), RESPEC, and Wyss Associates, Inc. all worked together with National Park Service staff for over two weeks to fully document the sculpture and park grounds. In order to laser scan the face of the mountain sculpture completely, a special tripod rig was designed by the team, engineered by Hermanson Egge Engineering, and manufactured locally in Rapid City. The NPS ropes team repelled down the face of the mountain sculpture with this tripod rig and the laser scanner to scan the details of the sculpture that could not otherwise have been captured.

During the two weeks of field documentation, over 200 laser scans were performed, collecting billions of data points. In addition to the laser scan data collected, individual photographs and panoramic images were taken on the sculpture and throughout the park grounds. These images were used to photo-texture the laser scan data. All the data collected has been used to create a variety of media for digital preservation. This media will be used for the on-going preservation and conservation of the mountain and for public education and interpretation of the memorial.

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Slideshow of the documentation phase at Mount Rushmore



As stewards of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the National Park Service strives to preserve the mountain sculpture and its surrounding natural environment.

NPS has slowed the process of erosion by sealing the cracks on the top of the sculpted portions of Mount Rushmore, leaving the vertical cracks open to allow the release of water to minimize the process of freezing and thawing, especially in the harsh unpredictable South Dakota winters. The National Park Service team uses strain gauges and fiber optic communication lines to gather data on the monitored blocks within the sculpture. The laser scan data is being used to closely examine the cracks within the sculpted part of Mount Rushmore. Examining these cracks helps determine their “strike and dip” or simply illustrate the direction in which the individual blocks would go if they did move. This ability to forecast potential movement has been greatly enhanced by the data collected through the scanning process.

The many facilities at the memorial have changed over time to better meet the needs of the increasing numbers of visitors over the years. In the mid-1990’s work began on the current facilities accommodating the nearly three million people that now visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial each year.

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Area Descriptions

Avenue of Flags
Borglum Terrace
Grand Viewing Terrace
Mountain Sculpture
Abraham Lincoln
George Washington
Hall of Records
Theodore Roosevelt
Thomas Jefferson
Park Entrance
Presidential Trail
Sculptor's Studio
Sculptor's Studio Interior
Visitor's Area


Amphitheater Description:

Located in front of the Mountain Sculpture, the Amphitheater hosts the ever popular Evening Lighting Ceremony throughout the summer months. The Amphitheater has multiple levels and seats 2,500 people.

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Avenue of Flags

Avenue of Flags Description:

The Avenue of Flags is a walkway leading from the Concession Building to the Grandview Terrace. The Avenue of Flags was initially established as part of the celebration of America’s Bicentennial at the request of a visitor. Flags are powerful symbols, which remind people of the strength that is found within our nation’s diversity, history and ideals. The 56 flags represent the 50 states, one district, three territories, and two commonwealths of the United States of America. The flags are arranged in alphabetical order beginning with the A’s on the walkway near the Concession Building and ending with the W’s near the Visitor Center/Museum.

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Borglum Terrace

Borglum Terrace Description:

The Borglum Terrace is the location of Borglum's first studio at Mount Rushmore. He chose this area because he considered it the best for viewing the sculpture. It now contains the original framework of his studio and includes two historic fireplaces as well as a bust of Gutzon Borglum made by his son Lincoln Borglum.

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Grand Viewing Terrace

Grand Viewing Terrace Description:

Located above the Amphitheater and Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center, the Grand View Terrace provides a panoramic view of the four faces on the mountain.

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Mountain Sculpture

Mountain Sculpture Description:

Mount Rushmore, also known as the Shrine of Democracy, is a National Memorial depicting four of the most prominent presidents of the first 150 years of the United States - George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson. Mount Rushmore was carved into South Dakota’s Black Hills from 1927 to 1941 under the direction of sculptor Gutzon Borglum. The project took a team of 400 drillers and assistant carvers fourteen years to complete. Over 1.7 billion pounds of stone were removed using dynamite, detailed drilling, and finishing processes.

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Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln Description:

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, held the nation together during its greatest trial, the Civil War. Lincoln believed his most sacred duty was the preservation of the union. It was his firm conviction that slavery must be abolished (1809-1865).

Lincoln's Boyhood Home
Lincoln's Home
Lincoln Memorial

"I leave you hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal." - Abraham Lincoln

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Canyon Description:

The Hall of Records Canyon is a deep walled canyon behind the Mountain Sculpture. While mostly unsculpted, its northwest wall houses the unfinished Hall of Records. The mountain and canyon are made of Harney Peak granite, an igneous rock, and mica schist, a metamorphic rock.

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George Washington

George Washington Description:

George Washington, first president of the United States, led the early colonists in the American Revolutionary War to win independence from Great Britain. He was the father of the new country and laid the foundation of American democracy. Because of his importance, Washington is the most prominent figure on the mountain (1732-1799).

Washington's Birthplace

"Believing that a representative government, responsible at short periods of election, is that which produces the greatest sum of happiness to mankind, I feel it a duty to do no act which shall essentially impair that principle." - George Washington

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Hall of Records

Hall of Records Description:

Located along the small canyon behind the Mountain Sculpture, the Hall of Records is an unfinished chamber which was intended by sculptor Gutzon Borglum to be a repository of the American Story. Construction of the hall took place between July 1938 and July 1939, when a 70-foot tunnel was blasted into the mountain. It remains very roughly cut, and tapers to a point at the back. Work halted in 1939 when Congress directed that construction should be executed only on the faces. With Borglum’s death in 1941 and American involvement in World War II, all work on the memorial came to a close on October 31, 1941.

This chamber was to hold the documents and artifacts most central to American democratic history. The proposed room was intended to be very large, up to 80 by 100 feet was to be drilled into the north wall of the canyon. Borglum’s scheme also called for an 800-foot granite stairway to reach the room. The steps would begin near his studio, rise gradually to meet the canyon mouth behind Lincoln’s head, and then lead to the entrance of the great hall.

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Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt Description:

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, provided leadership when America experienced rapid economic growth as it entered the 20th Century. He was instrumental in negotiating the construction of the Panama Canal, linking the east and the west. He was known as the "trust buster" for his work to end large corporate monopolies and ensure the rights of the common working man (1858-1919).

Theodore Roosevelt's Birthplace
Theodore Roosevelt's Inauguration
Sagamore Hill - Theodore Roosevelt's Home
Theodore Roosevelt National Park

"The first requisite of a good citizen in this Republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight - that he shall not be a mere passenger." - Theodore Roosevelt

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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson Description:

Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, was the author of the Declaration of Independence, a document which inspires democracies around the world. He also purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 which doubled the size of our country, adding all or part of fifteen present-day states (1743-1826).

Jefferson Memorial

"We act not for ourselves but for the whole human race. The event of our experiment is to show whether man can be trusted with self - government." - Thomas Jefferson

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Park Entrance

Park Entrance Description:

As part of more recent facilities built to accommodate the growing number of visitors at the park, the entrance to the memorial features a large parking garage, paths and roads which provide access to the Visitor’s Area and the rest of the park.

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Presidential Trail

Presidential Trail Description:

The Presidential Trail is a half-mile walking trail that offers spectacular views of the mountain sculpture. It takes visitors up to the base of the sculpture and down to the Sculptor's Studio. In total, there are 425 stairs along the Presidential Trail.

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Sculptor's Studio

Sculptor's Studio Description:

Located southeast of the sculpture, the Sculptor’s Studio is the second studio built on the property. It was designed by architect CC Gideon, who also designed the famed pigtail bridges of the Iron Mountain Road. The Sculptor’s Studio was completed by 1939 and became Gutzon Borglum’s last studio. Today, it houses the original scale model of the sculptor's design.

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Sculptor's Studio Interior

Sculptor's Studio Interior Description:

The Sculptor’s Studio was Gutzon Borglum’s second studio built on the property. As a museum, it now holds Borglum's original model of the faces, a mask of President Lincoln, and the model of the Hall of Records.

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Visitor's Area

Visitor's Area Description:

The Visitor's Area is the location of visitor facilities like the Information Center, gift shop, restrooms and food services.

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more     - Gerard Baker
            Former Mount Rushmore Superintendant

     - Amy Bracewell
            Mount Rushmore Historian

     - Duane Bubac
            Mount Rushmore Director of Cultural Resources and Facilities

     - Ace Crawford
            Mount Rushmore Public Information Officer

     - Julie Gregg-Bubac
            Mount Rushmore Management Specialist

     - Paul Hammett
            Mount Rushmore Director of Safety

     - Don Hart
            Mount Rushmore Chief Ranger

     - Blaine Kortemeyer
            Mount Rushmore Deputy Director of Interpretation and Education

     - Maureen McGee-Ballinger
            Mount Rushmore Director of Interpretation and Education

     - Cheryl Schreier
            Mount Rushmore Superintendant

     - Navnit Singh
            Former Mount Rushmore Director of Interpretation

     - Ropes Access Team
            Mount Rushmore

     - Bruce Weisman
            Mount Rushmore Director of Resource Management

     - Michael Harvey
            Product Marketing Manager

     - Taline Ayanyan
            Production Supervisor

     - Justin Barton
            Technical Services Manager

     - Mondrian Hsieh
            Production Intern

     - Elizabeth Lee
            Director of Projects and Development

     - Scott Lee
            Production Supervisor

     - Myasha Nicholas
            Graphic Support and Content Creator

     - Landon Silla
            Manager of Information Technology

     - Kristina Sturm
            Project Manager

     - Doug Pritchard

     - Alastair Rawlison
            Visualization Specialist

     - Mike Brooks

     - Chris McGregor
            Depute Director, Conservation Group

     - David Mitchell
            Director, Conservation Group

     - Lisa Nicholson
            Communications and Media Manager

     - Dr. Lyn Wilson
            Scottish Ten Project Manager and Scientist

     - Dr. Maureen Young
            Heritage Scientist

     - Rich Barry