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Mount Rushmore National Memorial

American History, Alive in Stone

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About Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota, tell the story of the birth, growth, development, and preservation of this country.

From the history of the first inhabitants to the diversity of America today, Mount Rushmore brings visitors face to face with the rich heritage we all share.

Mount Rushmore is a project of colossal proportion, colossal ambition, and colossal achievement. It involved the efforts of nearly 400 men and women. The duties involved varied greatly from the call boy to drillers to the blacksmith to the housekeepers. Some of the workers at Mount Rushmore were interviewed, and were asked, "What is it you do here?" One of the workers responded and said, "I run a jackhammer." Another worker responded to the same question, "I earn $8.00 a day." However, a third worker said, "I am helping to create a memorial." The third worker had an idea of what they were trying to accomplish.

The workers had to endure conditions that varied from blazing hot to bitter cold and windy. Each day they climbed 700 stairs to the top of the mountain to punch-in on the time clock. Then 3/8 inch thick steel cables lowered them over the front of the 500-foot face of the mountain in a "bosun chair". Some of the workers admitted being uneasy with heights, but during the Depression, any job was a good job.

The work was exciting but dangerous. 90% of the mountain was carved using dynamite. The powdered would cut and set charges of dynamite of specific sizes to remove precise amounts of rock.

Mt Rushmore Collage

Before the dynamite charges could be set off, the workers would have to be cleared from the mountain. Workers in the winch house on top of the mountain would hand crank the winches to raise and lower the drillers. If they went too fast, the drillers in their bosun chairs would be dragged upon their faces. To keep this from happening, young men and boys were hired as call boys. Call boys sat at the edge of the mountain and shout messages back and forth assuring safety. During the 14 years of construction, not one fatality occurred.

Dynamite was used until only three to six inches of rock was left to remove to get to the final carving surface. At this point, the drillers and assistant carvers would drill holes into the granite very close together. This was called honeycombing. The closely drilled holes would weaken the granite so it could be removed often by hand.

Visitors to the site were very interested in the honeycombed granite and would often ask, "How can I get a piece of rock like that?" The hoist operator would usually respond, "Oh, I can't give that away. I'm holding onto it for a buddy of mine that works up on the mountain." The visitor would respond, "I'll pay, I'll give you $2.00 for it." The hoist operator's reply was, "Nope, nope, I'd really catch it if I gave away my buddy's piece of granite." If the visitors were very determined to get a piece of that granite, they would make another offer. "I'll give you $6.00 for that piece of honeycomb granite." The hoist operator would pretend to pause and think about it... then he would say, "Alright for $6.00 I'm willing to take the heat." The hoist operator would give the visitors the piece of honeycombed granite and take their $6.00. The visitor would leave very pleased with their rare and hard-won souvenir. The hoist operator would wait until he was sure the visitors were gone and he would get on the phone to the top of the mountain and say, "Boys send down another one!" Another piece of honeycombed granite was sent down, ready for the next visitor looking for a special souvenir from Mount Rushmore.

After the honeycombing, the workers smoothed the surface of the faces with a hand facer or bumper tool. In this final step, the bumper tool would even up the granite, creating a surface as smooth as a sidewalk.

From 1927 to 1941 the 400 workers at Mount Rushmore were doing more than operating a jackhammer, they were doing more than earning $8.00 a day, they were building a Memorial that people from across the nation and around the world would come to see for generations.

You do not need a reservation for any programs at Mount Rushmore, including the Evening Lighting Ceremony.

Things To Do

While most visitors travel to Mount Rushmore to admire the enormous sculpted faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, there are numerous other ways to experience this site and immerse yourself in the human history and the natural surroundings of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

If you have one to two hours:

  • Visit the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center to view exhibits and a 14-minute film describing the reasons for and methods used in carving Mount Rushmore.
  • Walk the Presidential Trail (0.6 miles long, 422 stairs, weather permitting) to get up close and personal with the mountain sculpture and perhaps glimpse some of the area wildlife. During 2018 a portion of the trail will be closed due to construction. See current trail conditions here.
  • Complete the Junior Ranger program. Booklets are available at the information desks for ages three to four, five to twelve and 13 and up.
  • Dine in the Carver's Marketplace, enjoy some ice cream from the Ice Cream Shop or shop in the Gift Shop.

If you have more time, you may also consider:

Ranger Walks and Talks (30 minutes) Free

These programs begin at various locations throughout the memorial. Programs are offered each day throughout the summer months. Schedules are posted at the Information Center and Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center.

Evening Program (45 minutes - weather permitting) Free

Join a park ranger in the park's outdoor amphitheater for an inspirational program focusing on the presidents, patriotism and the nation's history. Beginning with a ranger talk, this program continues with the film Freedom: America's Lasting Legacy (captioned) and culminates in the lighting of the memorial. Program held nightly late May through the end of September.

Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Heritage Village (10 - 30 minutes) Free

Explore the history of the Black Hills and the American Indian tribes who have populated this land for thousands of years. Located along the first section of the Presidential Trail, this area highlights the customs and traditions of local American Indian communities. Open 10:30 am to 3:00 pm early June through mid-August, weather permitting.

Youth Exploration Area (10 - 30 minutes) Free

Explore the natural, cultural and historical aspects of Mount Rushmore with interactive programs. Located along the first section of the Presidential Trail. Open early June through early August.

Audio Tour (30 - 120 minutes) Rental Fee Charged

Rent an audio tour wand to hear the story of Mount Rushmore through music, narration, interviews, historic recordings and sound effects while walking a scenic route around the park. Available at the Audio Tour Building across from the Information Center (rentals available inside the Information Center during the winter months). The tour and accompanying brochure is available in English, French, German, Lakota, and Spanish.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial Gallery