Weird History
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The Construction Of Mount Rushmore Is Way More Interesting Than You Ever Realized

Updated August 16, 2019 27.8k views12 items

Who built Mount Rushmore? How long did it take to build Mount Rushmore? The answers to these questions are far more complicated than most people realize, and the seemingly innocent American landmark has a history full of controversy and disagreement. The project, as originally conceived, was vastly different than what stands in place today. The politics and history of sculptor Gutzon Borglum shaped the project, and many of his decisions are still hotly debated today. 

How Mount Rushmore was made is a story that starts in the 1920's. Originally a project meant to entice tourism to South Dakota, Mount Rushmore became an ambitious endeavor meant to honor the history, culture, and spirit of America in general. Construction spanned nearly two decades and the project never quite lived up to its zealous intentions. Still, Mount Rushmore remains an iconic American landmark. Reading up on the history of the monument will leave you with a newfound appreciation of its complexity. 

 

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  • Workers Earned Modest Wages, Despite The Grueling Nature Of The Work

    Workers typically earned between 45 and 75 cents an hour, which came out to about 8 dollars a day. Rushmore was built between 1927 and 1941. Accounting for inflation, workers would have made somewhere between $112 and $139 by today’s standards.

  • Photo: National Park Service / WikiMedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Original Plan For Mount Rushmore Was Entirely Different Than What We See Today

    As first conceived, Mount Rushmore was going to be carved into the granite needles near Harney Peak, the tallest mountain in South Dakota, and not the titular mountain. Doane Robinson, the official state historian of South Dakota, wanted to bring in more visitors to the state. Robinson felt adding a national landmark could help bolster tourism and wanted to make a sculpture celebrating the American West.

    Robinson envisioned a statue depicting Western figures like Red Cloud, Lewis and Clark, and Buffalo Bill Cody. However, after Gutzon Borglum signed on as the sculptor, plans changed. Finding the needles insufficient for sculpting, Gutzon instead decided to carve into Mount Rushmore. He wanted a landmark with more national appeal, and suggested carving national figures into the mountain instead of Western icons. 

  • The Construction Of Mount Rushmore Was Met With Controversy

    Mount Rushmore was actually a highly controversial project from the get-go. Environmentalists of the time were deeply opposed to carving into the Black Hills, believing this would destroy the area’s natural beauty. The Lakota Tribe saw Mount Rushmore as their homeland, and were deeply opposed to it being desecrated. For the Lakota, the carving of four white men into the mountain was a reminder of their oppression.

    In the 1930s, Lakota chief Henry Standing Bear commissioned a sculptor to carve a statue of the legendary Lakota leader Crazy Horse on a cliff 15 miles from Mount Rushmore. The project is ongoing today and is privately funded, as advocates of the memorial refuse government grants. When done, the sculpture will be vastly bigger than Mount Rushmore itself.

  • Mount Rushmore Was Never Completed

    If you've noticed Lincoln’s missing an ear, this is because Mount Rushmore was never actually finished. The presidents were meant to be depicted from the waist up. There was also supposed to be carvings of the Louisiana Purchase and The Declaration of Independence, in addition to a secret room behind Lincoln’s head. Construction ended in 1941 after Borglum’s death and the projected was never completed.