Student Guide

The Idea

What was once an idea to bring tourism to South Dakota, turned into something much greater. The idea was originated by State historian Doane Robinson. He imagined large figures of the American west carved in South Dakota’s Black Hills. Robinson contacted master sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Borglum liked the idea, but wanted the sculpture to be a monument that conveyed the meaning of America. Work commenced officially on October 4, 1927. After fourteen long years riddled with funding challenges, the monument was completed in 1941. Today Mount Rushmore is visited by millions of visitors a year and stands as a symbol of America and this great nation.

The People

Before bringing his idea to the South Dakota citizenry, Robinson contacted and gained the help and support of Senator Peter Norbeck. Norbeck had a deep interest and appreciation for the Black Hills. In 1913, using his powers as a Senator, Norbeck was able to create a 61,400 acre game preserve in the Black Hills. This later grew by over 30,000 acres in 1920, becoming what we know
today as Custer State Park.

Gutzon Borglum, a famous sculptor who had made his name through celebration of things American, was asked if he would be interested in designing and supervising the creation of this massive sculpture in the Black Hills. Robinson
in his letter to Borglum admitted that the project had “not passed beyond mere suggestion”, but if Borglum would be willing to do it, Robinson would find the financial backing for the project.

Borglum liked the idea, and scouted out a broad wall of exposed granite on 5,725 foot Mount Rushmore, named in 1885 for New York lawyer Charles E. Rushmore. Robinson was originally imagining the sculpture would be a parade of American Indian leaders and American explorers who shaped the frontier. Borglum instead envisioned four U.S.. presidents beside an entablature inscribed with a brief history of the country. In a separate wall behind the figures, a Hall of Records would preserve national documents and artifacts. The sculptor’s choice of subjects would elevate the memorial from a regional enterprise to a national cause.

Senator Peter Norbeck and his long time friend Congressman William Williamson were key figures in acquiring funding for the carving of the mountain. Throughout the years they wrote and promoted legislation which ultimately provided 85% of the funding for the memorial.

The Presidents

Gutzon Borglum chose four presidents to carve on the mountain, because to him they represented the first 150 years of American History.

  • George Washington, the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797, represents the birth of our country.
  • Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States from 1801 to 1809, symbolizes the expansion of the United States made possible by his purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803.
  • Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States from 1861 to 1865, embodies the preservation of the nation in confronting the challenges of the Civil War.
  • Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States from 1901 to 1909, represents the development of the country because of his support of the construction of the Panama Canal.

Mount Rushmore Timeline

  • December 28, 1923 - State Historian Doane Robinson suggested carving giant statues in South Dakota’s Black Hills.
  • October 1, 1925 - Mount Rushmore is dedicated as a national memorial.
  • October 4, 1927 - First actual drilling begins.
  • July 4, 1930 - George Washington's face is dedicated.
  • June 10, 1933 - President Franklin D. Roosevelt issues an executive order to place Mount Rushmore under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
  • August 30, 1936 - President Franklin D. Roosevelt attends the dedication of Thomas Jefferson’s face.
  • September 17, 1937 - Abraham Lincoln's face is dedicated on the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the United States Constitution.
  • July 2, 1939 - Theodore Roosevelt’s face is dedicated.
  • March 6, 1941 - Gutzon Borglum dies in Chicago, his son Lincoln Borglum carries on the work.
  • October 31, 1941 - Last day that workers perform any work on Mount Rushmore.
Lincoln Borglum standing on the scale plaster model with pointing equipment.  Theodore Roosevelt is not yet placed on this model.
Lincoln Borglum standing on the scale plaster model with pointing equipment.

Charles D'Emery


How do you turn a mountain into a work of art? The famous sculptor Gutzon Borglum familiarized himself with life masks, painting, photographs and descriptions of the four presidents. He then created multiple models which his workmen could
use as guides.

The models he created were sized at a ratio of 1:12-one inch on the model would equal one foot on the mountain. He used these models in conjunction with a method of measurement called the pointing system. He had one set up on the models and another on the mountain itself, using the ratio guidelines workmen were able to figure out how much rock to remove and where.

Workers using the pointing system and Bosun chairs on the face of George Washington.
Workers using the pointing system and bosun chairs on the face of George Washington.

Once an egg-shaped volume of rock had been exposed and prepared, the measurements were calculated for the facial features. Skilled blasters could dynamite within a few inches of a desired measurement. After rough facial features were shaped out, workers suspended by cables in swings called bosun chairs used pneumatic drills to honeycomb the granite with closely spaced holes. This excess rock was chiseled off, and then workers “bumped” away the drill holes and lines using pneumatic hammers to create a smooth, white surface.

A Rocky Mountain goat with shaggy white fur and pointy black horns looking to the left stands on a large granite outcrop in front of a blue sky with light clouds.
A Rocky Mountain goat stands on a large granite outcrop.


What Animals Live Here?

There are many creatures that call the Black Hills home. This is the land where mountains meet the plains; two very different environments, leading to a rich diversity of habitats and animals. Today in the Black Hills you can find bison, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, coyotes, mountain lions, and bobcats as well as many other creatures.

During a visit to Mount Rushmore watch for red squirrels and least chipmunks, and catch occasional glimpses of yellow-bellied marmots, mountain goats and mule deer

A mule deer with greyish-tan fur, white throat patch, black-tipped ears and black nose looking straight at the photographer with pine trees in the background.
A mule deer with eyes, ears and nose pointing straight at you.


Mule Deer

(Odocoileus hemionus)
Mule deer are commonly seen near Mount Rushmore. They spend summer days in the shade, moving and feeding during the early morning and late evening hours. In winter, they become more active during the warmer daylight hours. Mule deer eat a wide variety of grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and parts of trees.

A least chipmunk with white and dark brown stripes on its back and across its face looking to the right nibbling on something it holds in its front paws.
A least chipmunk sitting on a rock.


Least Chipmunk

(Tamias minimus)
The least chipmunk (below) is a small member of the squirrel family. They can be seen bounding around all parts of Mount Rushmore, usually moving very quickly. Chipmunks do not hibernate and feed year round on the fruits and grains of many plants, seeds from pine trees, and insects.

A view looking up towards the sky of a group of ponderosa pine trees.  A few clouds are visible in a light blue sky.
A view of a group of ponderosa pine trees looking up towards the sky with clouds floating past.


What Plants Live Here?

The ponderosa pine is the primary tree in the Black Hills around Mount Rushmore. Ponderosa pine trees are found on dry and rocky slopes. In the Black Hills a ponderosa pine forest is the climax community. A climax community is the final stage of biotic succession attainable by a plant community. If there is a disturbance in the ponderosa pine community, such as a blow down or pine bark beetle infestation in an area, forest succession will start again. In this newly opened area other species of trees and plants such as grasses, shrubs and quaking aspen will start to grow. The aspen seedlings cannot tolerate the shade created by the ponderosa’s, and soon the ponderosa pine dominates again, until the next disturbance befalls the forest.

Mount Rushmore Today

Each year around two million visitors from all over the world travel to Mount Rushmore to admire and be inspired by Gutzon Borglum’s sculpture. To help maintain the sculpture, National Park Service staff repel over the faces to inspect and caulk any cracks or fissures that they find. They use a silicone sealant, which seals out moisture and helps prevent ice and snow from penetrating into the cracks and splitting or damaging the sculpture.


January and February are usually the coldest months of the year. Daytime temperatures average in the 30’s. The most snow falls in March and April when normal high temperatures are in the 40’s and lows in the 30’s. Average snowfall at Mount Rushmore is about 30-40 inches each year. May and June are mild, in the 60’s and 70’s, with scattered afternoon thunderstorms. July and August are the warmest and driest months when high temperatures rise into the 90’s. In September and October the temperatures begin to cool, averaging in the 60’s and 70’s, lows in the 40’s. November and December are the beginning of winter months when high temperatures range from the 30’s to 40’s.

Park Facts

  • 90% of the carving was done using dynamite.
  • Nearly 400 workers helped create the memorial.
  • Total cost of memorial was $989, 992.32.
  • No one died during the carving of the memorial.
  • Rate of erosion of the sculpture is estimated to be one inch every 10,000 years.
  • The top of Mount Rushmore is 5,725 feet above sea level.
  • Mount Rushmore was named in 1885 for New York attorney Charles E. Rushmore.
  • The mountain is made of granite.

Last updated: January 30, 2023

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13000 Highway 244
Building 31, Suite 1

Keystone, SD 57751


605 574-2523
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