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The four, 60-foot granite faces of Mount Rushmore National Memorial symbolize freedom, democracy and the American dream. This mountain carving of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln draws more than three million visitors each year.
The first blast on the mountain occurred in 1927. Under the direction of sculptor Gutzon Borglum, 400 workers labored through hot summers and cold winters to create the sculpture, nearly 500 feet up the side of the mountain. More than 90 percent of the mountain was carved using dynamite. The fine details of the faces were achieved with a jackhammer. Operators hung from the top of the mountain in bosun chairs held by steel cables. Despite the dangerous work, during the 14 years of construction, not a single person died. The memorial was officially declared complete on October 31, 1941.
However, Gutzon Borglum’s vision was not totally completed – original plans included head-to-waist depictions of the presidents. When Borglum died suddenly in July 1941, his son, Lincoln, tried to continue his father’s work, but funding ran out as America entered World War II. Visitors wanting to see a model of Borglum’s original dream can view it at the Sculptor’s Studio located at the Memorial.
Another part of Borglum’s grand vision was for a Hall of Records to be carved into the canyon behind the faces. Borglum envisioned a majestic room that held important documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Borglum started blasting the hall, but never finished it.
On August 9, 1998, Borglum’s Hall of Records was somewhat completed when a repository was placed in the floor of the hall entry. Inside a titanium vault are sixteen porcelain enamel panels inscribed with the story of Mount Rushmore, the reasons for selecting the four presidents and a short history of the United States. The Hall of Records is not accessible to visitors, but is left as a record for people thousands of years from now.
Borglum chose these four men to carve into the mountainside because they represented the first 150 years of American history. George Washington was America’s first president and a founding father of the nation. Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence – the basis for the democracy. Jefferson was also responsible for the expansion of the union with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Abraham Lincoln was responsible for the preservation of the union by holding the country together during the Civil War, a trying time in the nation’s history. Theodore Roosevelt was chosen because he led the country during the explosive economic growth of the early 20th Century. He was also responsible for setting aside land for national parks so all generations could enjoy the beauty of the country.