Mt Rushmore is an iconic landmark found in the Black Hills of Keystone, South Dakota. It stands as one of the USA’s most famous symbols alongside the Statue of Liberty and the White House.
The landmark features the faces of four presidents — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln — carved on the towering rock. Not only is it renowned for its historical significance, but it has also been used in pop culture. It has been featured in Hollywood blockbusters and small-screen cartoons, referenced in sports, and more.
While it’s a popular tourist attraction, there are some lesser-known facts that may shock you. From who created them and why to the secret rooms hidden in the heads, you’ll learn all about them below.
If you’re interested in other US landmarks, read up on the interesting facts about the Statue of Liberty.
37 Interesting Facts About Mt Rushmore
Without any further ado, let’s jump into the list of facts about Mt. Rushmore many people aren’t aware of.
The idea for sculptured faces on granite rock arose in 1923 from Doane Robinson, a South Dakota historian. The state wasn’t exactly a drawcard for tourists, so he wanted to attract travelers with a new attraction.
Robinson initially planned to have the sculptures carved onto the Needles, but this plan was abandoned as they were too weak. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, having been called to be part of the project, aimed for the mountains, which were bigger and stronger.
The entirety of the project took around 14 years to complete, spanning the years between 1927 and 1941.
In 1934, Washington’s face was completed. Two years later, Jefferson’s face looked overlooked the mountain floor. A year later, Lincoln’s face had its finishing touches applied. Then in 1941, Theodore Roosevelt’s face was complete.
While the main drawcard to Mt. Rushmore is the presidents’ faces, there’s an alternate universe where the mountain doesn’t don their faces. Robinson had initially planned to feature lesser-known Western heroes like Buffalo Bill Cody, Sioux chief Red Cloud, and Lewis & Clark.
Like the location, this quickly changed when Borglum joined as a lead sculptor and aimed for wider, national acclaim. As a result, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt were chosen.
Given how lengthy American history stretches, you could make a case for the inclusion of any other presidents up to that point. So, why were the ones present on the sculpture chosen ahead of any of the other candidates?
George Washington (1789 – 1797) was chosen for his role as the nation’s founding father. Thomas Jefferson (1801 – 1809) was selected for helping the nation’s expansion by signing the Louisiana Purchase and writing the Declaration of Independence.
Abraham Lincoln (1861 – 1865) was picked for his role in leading the country through the Civil War. Teddy Roosevelt (1901 – 1909) locked down a spot on the sculpture for his conservation efforts and building the Panama Canal.
As we all know, all the presidents on Mount Rushmore were chosen for their exploits and importance to the US. However, there were suggestions of adding a fifth face on the mountain during its construction.
Of the most prominent suggestions, there was a popular petition for Susan B. Anthony to be sculpted next to the four presidents. She got the public nod for her role in leading the women’s rights movement. Unfortunately, Congress had passed a bill that federal funds would only be used for the initial four faces.
In the following decades, there have been some suggestions for the addition of presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan per various polls. On the fun side, Elvis Presley’s likeness has also had prominent requests.
While George Washington is the first face on the left of Mt. Rushmore, this isn’t how it was initially intended. The plan was for Thomas Jefferson’s face to be on Washington’s left (from a visitor’s grounded perspective).
However, these plans changed as inconsistencies in the rocks were found on the initially proposed position. While blasting away at the rock, the workers kept running into more and more quartz — which was unsuitable for holding up the carving.
While most people flock to South Dakota to marvel at these 60-foot faces, the sighting could’ve been even more spectacular. As evidenced by his smaller plaster models, Borglum had planned to give the presidents more than just heads.
The sculptures were supposed to show the presidents from the waist up in their iconic garments. However, this ultimately didn’t happen due to funding issues and the fact that Borglum passed on before completion.
Borglum also planned to carve the Entablature, words detailing a brief history of the US, onto a large image of the Louisiana Purchase. These writings would feature some anecdotal information about US history between 1776 and 1906. This was ultimately abandoned due to Jefferson’s relocation.
Before the carving of the faces, it was thought that around 450 000 tons of granite would have to be removed. Borglum had his workers chip away at the rock using chisels initially before switching to jackhammers — which were both too slow. Upon realization, he turned to dynamite and had his team blast the granite within proximity of the “skin.”
This method, in turn, made the workers’ jobs using chisels and jackhammers easier by around 90%. Just imagine if explosives never existed, the project may still be ongoing today.
Of the 400+ workers brought in to work on the mountain, none passed on during the sculpting process. This is incredible because many of them were hanging high in the air while chipping away at the rock.
Unfortunately, many workers died after the project was finished. These workers had inhaled silica dust while working on Mt. Rushmore and later passed on due to a lung disease called silicosis.
This famous monument sits on the Black Hills, which is a sacred location for the Lakota Sioux Native American tribe. As a result, the tribe rejected the idea from the onset and still do to this day. They didn’t want to have the faces of men who had supported the murdering of Native Americans carved on their precious mountain.
Many members of the tribe climbed up to the mountain to protest the project, staying for three months and only leaving due to bad weather. Despite the objections and protests, the carvings were approved and went ahead as planned.
While the protests couldn’t stop the rock carving, the Native American tribe did win a court case against the federal government in 1980. This legal decision made it clear that the Black Hills, where Mt. Rushmore can be found, belonged to the tribe. As a result, the government offered the tribe a large sum of money — which they rejected.
The Lakota Sioux Native American tribe wanted nothing but the title deed to the area, including Mount Rushmore. They insisted the area wasn’t for sale and was sacred land they wanted back.
Before the mountains had their famous name, the rock formation had several names. In the past, the mountain was called “The Six Grandfathers” or “Cougar Mountain” by the Sioux tribe. Settlers had called it “Cougar Mountain,” “Keystone Cliffs,” “Sugarloaf Mountain,” and “Slaughterhouse Mountain.”
It wasn’t until around 1885 that the mountain got its popular name, with NYC lawyer Charles E. Rushmore being the inspiration. During a visit to the Black Hills, the lawyer asked for the name of the awe-inspiring pile of rock towering over him. The guide told him it had no true name but exclaimed that it would be now known as Rushmore Peak.
When plans for the Entablature were scrapped, Borglum came up with the idea of a Hall of Records room. It was supposed to house important documents detailing some American history and would be accessed by a staircase.
Unfortunately, Congress put a stop to those plans and told the sculptor to focus on the faces due to funding constraints.
Eventually, the Hall of Records was somewhat finished decades after Borglum had conceived the vision. In 1998, porcelain tables with images and text from the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights were placed in the room. There are also biographies of all four presidents and that of Borglum.
Unfortunately, visitors cannot access the Hall of Records because the staircase was never built.
If you had any ambitions to take on Mt. Rushmore and reach its summit, hold your horses. Climbing up the monument is prohibited, with hefty fines and possible jail time awaiting those who attempt the feat. Recently, a woman was fined $1,250 for making her way to the top of the landmark.
This prohibition is in place to protect both the monument and the adrenaline junkies out there. After all, it does sit 5,725 feet above sea level — making for a nasty fall.
While hiking and camping around the monument were common in its early days, it has since been forbidden. These activities were axed because the government views the memorial as an important piece of American history that should be respected as such.
Aspiring filmmakers and photographers rejoice; filming on the memorial is no longer forbidden. It was prohibited in the early days — with many Hollywood showcases of the monument being recreations. This changed in the years that followed, but anyone coming here to film needs a permit.
While you can’t make your way to the very top of the monument, there’s no shortage of splendid views that trump the ground view. You can snap up some incredible images for your memories or your Instagram account with these viewpoints.
Follow the crowds, and you’ll land up at the Grand View Terrace, which is picturesque, to say the least. It sits at the end of a path lined with flags from all 50 states — how patriotic.
Another incredible viewpoint is along the President’s Trail, which is often less crowded. Here, you can enjoy an up-close-and-personal experience with different views of each face.
Every single head on Mt. Rushmore stands at 60 feet tall, which makes you wonder how tall they would have been if finished. Likewise, the mouths are 18 feet wide, the eyes are all 11 feet wide, and the noses are 20 feet long.
At Borglum’s suggestion, Washington’s nose came in at a foot longer than other presidents. The change was motivated by his belief that Mount Rushmore would erode at around 1 inch every 10,000 years. Why he only chose Washington for the rhinoplasty is unknown.
Mount Rushmore was built to be a spectacle that draws tourists in for many years into the future — we’re talking thousands of years. Mission accomplished.
It’s estimated that the noses could last around 2 million years, and the shape of the heads could be visible for another 7 million years. However, the heads are likely to start losing outlines around 500,000 years in the future.
In total, the project cost $989,999.32 to complete in its 14 years of carving. Interestingly enough, only 6 of those 14 years were spent carving, with the remainder lost to bad weather and a lack of funds.
When adjusted for inflation, this would be $17,8 million in today’s economy.
While most people believe Roosevelt’s head dons his iconic glasses, it actually isn’t. It’s all just a trick of the eye to get visitors to think it is. Instead of sculpting the glasses, Borglum and his team only carved edges of the frame and glass bridges.
The fact that you wouldn’t be otherwise able to tell from afar is a testament to Borglum’s talent.
Unfortunately, Borglum never got to see his most famous project completed as he passed on in March 1941. He had gone for prostate surgery in February 1941, but he developed a blood clot that saw him die three weeks after the operation.
Lincoln Borglum, his son, took over the project to its completion in October of the same year.
While many of the people who worked on the project had died in the 20th century, some made it to the 21st century. Of these people, the last to pass on was Nick Clifford, who took his last breath in 2019.
He was 98 when he died in November, meaning he had seen the monument reach many anniversaries.
Due to the monument’s popularity, there are a number of visitor facilities added in the area to give tourists more than just views from the ground. Among these is the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center with a museum and the Sculptor’s Studio.
You can view some of the Mount Rushmore scale models that Borglum had worked on at the Sculptor’s Studio. At the museum, view storage boxes for the dynamite used, read up on some helpful information, and more.
The location for Mt. Rushmore was chosen due to the natural lighting that Borglum and co. had expected for the faces to get. However, as years went by, it was discovered that the original lighting had a negative impact on the area’s nocturnal wildlife.
As a result, authorities installed an advanced LED lighting system in 2015 to better protect these animals. The improved illumination would also enhance nighttime visibility and safety for anyone visiting in the evening.
Before the term “Mount Rushmore” was loosely used to refer to some of the greatest sportsmen, an actual team represented the monument. Lincoln Borglum was a fan of baseball and often hired young men who had a talent for the sport as part of the crew.
Even those without talent, per se, were recruited to the amateur Rushmore Drillers as the Borglums believed this would help with camaraderie. The team would play games on Sundays and even went as far as the state semifinals in 1939.
Mount Rushmore is undoubtedly one of the most famous monuments in North America and the US. Likewise, its popularity transcends borders as it is also renowned globally.
One of the most incredible showcases of global influence can be found in the Naruto anime series out of Japan. The hit show features a memorial called “The Hokage Rock” which overlooks the protagonist’s home village. The rock boasts carvings of all the Hokage (chiefs of the land) and was built to signify how they’d always watch over the village.
Speaking of popularity, Mount Rushmore stands as one of America’s most popular drawcards.
When Doane Robinson conceived the idea of a sculpture of heroes, he did so to drive tourism to South Dakota. Given the popularity of Mount Rushmore, it’s easy to see his mission was accomplished.
This iconic attraction draws in approximately two million visitors annually. This includes local, national, and international visitors who make their way to South Dakota to marvel at the towering monument.
The memorial’s popularity doesn’t just benefit tourists who venture out just to see the landmark. The local communities are also one of the main benefactors of the memorial’s success.
In 2017, tourists spent an estimated $139 million on the local communities surrounding the monument. This was spent on lodging facilities, food and beverages, gas or oil, souvenirs, admission tickets, and local transportation.
This is another fun piece of trivia to know about the monument rather than a blow-your-mind fact.
Many visitors have been led astray when they look for the monument on Google Maps as the directions aren’t always perfect unless entered using coordinates. Instead of Mt. Rushmore, you may find yourself on a Methodist campground 12 miles away.
So, if the chance arises, ask a guide or another person if you’re still on the right path — save your legs all that walking. Or try the following tip to stay on the right track.
If you’re hellbent on using Google Maps or just can’t find anyone in the area, you still can. You can enter the specific GPS coordinates, which will lead you down the wrong path, like entering the name.
The GPS coordinates to the memorial are 43°52’44”N 103°27’35”W.
While a fifth face has never been added to Mt. Rushmore, some people believe there are more than just faces. Some say if you look to the Lincoln head’s right, you can see an elephant or its stone face.
Others claim that you can see another face if you rotate a picture of the mountains at a 90-degree angle. As these aren’t factual statements, visit the landmark and see if you see these faces — or perhaps discover even more faces.
Even though Mount Rushmore will be around for thousands — maybe even millions — of years, it still needs regular conservation. This helps keep the monument in tip-top shape and takes care of any cracks that may be evident.
One of the more well-known actions was the installation of camouflaged copper wires in 1998 to take care of hairline cracks. In 2009, these copper wires were replaced with fiber optic cables.
Most of the 400 men that worked on the sculpture had no previous carving experience. Borglum had found some of them on Black Hill as they went looking for gold.
Thanks to their experience using chisels, they got themselves jobs working on one of the most significant American projects.
The magnificent landmark has had its fair share of roles in many Hollywood films, with an appearance of the Hall of Records in Nicolas Cage’s National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
Prior to the filming restrictions being lifted, the memorial got famous thanks to a duplicate made in a Hollywood studio. The old movie “North by Northwest” featured a chase scene atop the duplicate creation. This helped propel the monument’s popularity.
As the idea wasn’t a federal one, there wasn’t too much clarity on who Mt. Rushmore would belong to. However, this all changed thanks to the Executive Order of June 10, 1933, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This placed the monument under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
Borglum wasn’t a fan of the idea as he didn’t like working under the government’s eagle eyes.
Okay, so this isn’t a fact, but it’s cheating worth doing. While no actual face will be added to the memorial in the near future, you can monumentalize yourself amongst the nation’s greatest presidents thanks to technology.
There are various generators and photo editors that can help place your face on Mt. Rushmore. This is a fun way to experience and celebrate the iconic landmark.
Mount Rushmore, often called the Shrine of Democracy, is one of the USA’s most famous landmarks. The iconic monument is known for featuring the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
Given its popularity, it has many lesser-known facts that this guide has hopefully shed some light on. Keep these in mind for trivia night or your next round of general knowledge, and you’ll blow the competition out of the water. Or, make your visit to Mount Rushmore even more memorable, knowing what can be classified as insider information.