Alongside the Statue of Liberty and the White House, Mount Rushmore has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the US.
Between 1927 and 1941, designer Gutzon Borglum oversaw as the faces of four presidents — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln — were carved into the side of a mountain in South Dakota’s Black Hills.
But there are some things about Mount Rushmore that may surprise you — from the secret room behind Lincoln’s head to Roosevelt’s imaginary glasses.
At first, people wanted Mount Rushmore to feature local heroes instead of the US presidents.
In the early 1920s, Doane Robinson, a South Dakota historian, proposed sculpting Mount Rushmore into people who were relevant to the west in an attempt to bring tourists into the region. He said Sioux chief Red Cloud, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Meriwether Lewis and William Clark would be perfect for the monument.
When Gutzon Borglum signed on as lead sculptor and architect of the project, however, he decided to feature the presidents because the monument would be more of a national draw.
Susan B. Anthony was meant to be on the mountain with the presidents, but a funding problem got in the way.
Susan B. Anthony was a vital player in the women’s rights movement and a famous advocate for women’s voting rights. Her place in American history made her a perfect candidate to be featured on Mount Rushmore. In fact, a bill was proposed in Congress in 1937 that would include the suffragette, but it was too late. Work on the monument had already begun and an existing bill stated federal funds for the project must only be spent on the work that had already started.
Local Native Americans opposed the sculpting of Mount Rushmore before it was built — and still do to this day.
During the building of Mount Rushmore, the Lakota Sioux Native American tribe was strongly against cutting into the sacred Black Hills. They especially were opposed to putting the faces of men who supported the killing of Native Americans on the mountain. Despite the criticism, the site was erected and is still considered controversial today.
Workers used dynamite to blast away 450,000 tons of rock. Most of that debris has been left in a heap at the base of the mountain.
The demolition work — which was considered dangerous — employed about 400 people.
There’s a secret room behind President Lincoln’s head that was meant to be called the Hall of Records.
Borglum had a grand vision for Mount Rushmore that went far beyond just the heads of the four presidents. He wanted to build a room behind Lincoln’s head that would store some of America’s most important documents. The room would be 80 feet tall and 100 feet long. He imagined brass cabinets that would hold the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
His plan never came to fruition even though workers started a 70-foot-long cavern behind Lincoln’s head for the Hall of Records. Borglum died mid-project and the money ran out, so the project was abandoned.
In 1998, however, 16 porcelain panels explaining the history of the United States and of Mount Rushmore were placed inside the 70-foot hall. The hall is not open to the public and is only meant as a time capsule.
When it was completed in 1941, the entire project had cost $989,992. Adjusted for inflation, that price tag would be over $17 million in today’s money.
While it cost $989,992 originally, Mount Rushmore also underwent a $40 million renovation in 1991.
President Thomas Jefferson’s head was originally supposed to be on the right of President Washington.
The workers later learned that the stone to the right of Washington was too weak to hold the sculpture, so they were forced to move him to the left.
Each head on Mount Rushmore is 60 feet tall.
Their noses are roughly 21 feet tall, their eyes are 11 feet wide, and their mouths are 18 feet wide.
Although President Teddy Roosevelt looks like he’s wearing glasses, it’s just a trick of the eye.
Roosevelt was known for wearing glasses, so Borglum had to figure out how to include them in the sculpture. He did so by only carving the bridge of the glasses and the edges of the frame.
Mount Rushmore is actually unfinished, in that each of the presidents was meant to also have a carved body.
Borglum died before the project was completed and the funding ran out, so only the head of each president was carved.
By Frank Olito