Ever Wonder Why Those Four Faces Made Mount Rushmore?

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July 08, 2021

Looking out onto the beauty of the Black Hills are four famous granite faces. But who are they? And why were they selected to be on one of America’s most iconic landmarks?

The idea of a memorial that would draw tourists to the area originated from South Dakota historian, Doane Robinson. Robinson's initial idea was to sculpt Western heroes such as Lewis and Clark, Buffalo Bill and Ogala Lakota leader Red Cloud. However, when Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor behind Mount Rushmore, joined the project he wanted to make the carving bigger by featuring American Presidents who would be known on a national level. Which led to the selection of the following men. Each one symbolizes major events in the shaping of our country and the true spirit of our nation.

The First Face – George Washington

  • George Washington’s face was the first to be carved on Mount Rushmore.
  • The Washington Carving was officially dedicated on July 4, 1930.
George Washington

Why he made the mountain:

A leader of the American Revolutionary War and instrumental in the birth of our nation, George Washington was elected to be the first President of the United States in 1789. He was reluctant to take the position knowing the challenges the new nation would face and feared he wasn’t the right man for the job. Washington was unanimously elected by the 69 electors to lead the new United States of American. He was president from 1789 to 1797.

The Second Face – Thomas Jefferson

  • The carving of Thomas Jefferson’s face on the mountain originally began on the opposite side of George Washington.
  • After 18 months carvers realized the granite on that part of the mountain was not suitable for carving. Jefferson’s partially carved face was blasted off with dynamite and carving began on the other side of Washington – where you see it now.
  • The Jefferson carving was dedicated on August 30, 1936 with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in attendance.
Thomas Jefferson

Why he made the mountain:

Serving as the third President of the United States from 1801 to 1809, Thomas Jefferson was also one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson is credited with inspiring democracy and the western expansion of the country. In 1803, Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory (which included most of present-day South Dakota) from France for $15 million. The expansion doubled the size of our country, prompting Jefferson to send Lewis and Clark on their famed expedition to explore and map out the new territory.

The Third Face – Theodore Roosevelt

  • Theodore Roosevelt’s face was the last to be carved on Mount Rushmore.
  • The Roosevelt carving was dedicated on July 2, 1939.
Teddy Roosevelt

Why he made the mountain:

Theodore Roosevelt served as the 26th President of the United States from 1901 to 1909. He was a fiery individualist who embodied American culture of the early 1900s and provided leadership during a time of rapid economic growth. His conservationism, willingness to take on big business and progressive policies set the stage for important reforms of the 20thcentury. Many characterize him as one of the nation’s greatest leaders. Deeply inspired by the Dakota Territory, Roosevelt is also the father of our National Park System, which protects valuable natural resources for future generations to enjoy.

The Fourth Face – Abraham Lincoln

  • The carving of Abraham Lincoln was officially dedicated on September 17, 1937.
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln

Why he made the mountain:

Serving as the 16th President of the United States from 1861 to 1865, Abraham Lincoln lead the country through some of its darkest years. Lincoln is considered by many scholars to be the greatest president our nation has ever had. He was instrumental in the abolishment of slavery and is credited with setting in motion the work to preserve the United States after the Civil War. On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated while attending a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. He died on April 15th.

Standing before these iconic faces sparks a unique sense of patriotism and is an experience unlike anything else. Stick around for the Evening Lighting Ceremony to make your Mount Rushmore visit truly monumental and be sure to check off these other experiences at the memorial. Greet more presidents after or before your visit to Mount Rushmore by touring the City of Presidents in Downtown Rapid City