Mount Rushmore

An unfinished monument to the glory of the history of the United States

General description

The so-called "Mount Rushmore" is an American national memorial consisting essentially of four gigantic statues representing the faces of four presidents of the United States chosen for their emblematic sides. Each symbolizes a characteristic feature of the history of this country. These are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt. The monument was carved by Gutzon Borglum, but finalized by his son.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Les visages

The original project was to carve the entire mountain to make the busts of the four presidents. But the lack of means, at the end of the work on the faces, caused the stop of the building site which is always in the same state as in 1941, year of the end of the works. The president who faces the visitors is the first of the United States, George Washington. If we believe the model that the sculptor made the mountain pan under his face was to accommodate his bust dressed in a jacket right.

The statues face east, so they get the sun early in the morning.

The tourist site

The park consists essentially of an esplanade from which the view of the monument is magnificent, a museum, a walkway to approach, an amphitheater and various services.

When the visitor arrives on site he goes through a long driveway called "alley to the flags". There are 56, one per US state and one for each of the territories. At the end of this alley esplanade offers a panoramic view of the site, and this is the highlight of the visit. But we can usefully continue by taking a very easy way of hiking - in fact a small path of walk - which winds along the mountain, it makes it possible to approach the faces. This path goes through the sculptor's studio, where we will discover the model of the initial project.

To know more about the visit, see the section below "Tourism".

The Mount Rushmore

There are many mountains in South Dakota. This was called "Six grandfathers" by the Lakota, the Amerindians who occupied this territory at the arrival of Europeans. When New York lawyer Charles Rushmore passed nearby, during an expedition, he described it so strongly that his name was later associated with the mountain.

It's a granite mountain, which does not detonate in the local landscape. The nearby Black Hills Mountains are also granite. Note that Mount Rushmore is the highest in the region, a criterion of choice for the installation of statues.

Some pictures


This monument is interesting for its quality, its gigantism, but also for its symbolism. Indeed, it is analysable from the historical, political and civilizational points of view.

Historical point of view

From a historical point of view Mount Rushmore symbolizes the history of the United States. It is the story of the great men, of the founding fathers as well as of the statesmen who knew how to keep the course of the nation in turmoil. Each face has a strong act. George Washington symbolizes the birth of the United States (He was the first president), Thomas Jefferson his integrity (he bought various territories to unify the country), Abraham Lincoln his unit (He managed to keep it despite the Civil War) and Theodore Roosevelt's expansionism on a global scale. Through these four characters we have a vision of the strengths of this country. Thus, if we have this in mind when we are there, it is not the face of the four presidents that we see, but the history of the country.

Political point of view

From a political point of view, Mount Rushmore is marked by the orientation of the presidents. If the first president of the United States, George Washington, is more known for his fight against the English than for his political orientation, this is not the case of the other three.

George Washington (1732-1799) was the first president of the United States. Father founder of the Nation, he was initially a rich planter of the South. After having fought during the war against the English he engaged in the revolution and, with the help of the French, obtained the victory. He participated in the drafting of the Constitution of the United States and was unanimously elected president. His two mandates were marked by the structuring of the state, its diplomatic and commercial development, and a slow change of opinion on slavery. It's obviously as the first president he's on Mount Rushmore.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was the third president of the United States, he was Republican. His career places him among the presidents who have left the best impression in history. Favorable to religious freedom, he is known for his great tolerance towards minorities. He is the president who bought Louisiana from the French Emperor Napoleon and ratified the ban on importing slaves. It was his popularity and open-mindedness at the birth of the United States that naturally made him a candidate to appear on Mount Rushmore.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was the 16th President of the United States. He had two complex warrants during which the war of secession and the abolition of slavery took place. His great political success was to maintain the country's union after the war, despite strong military, diplomatic and cultural opposition, with the South needing slavery to live. He paid for it with his life since he was assassinated by the Confederates. His presence on Mount Rushmore is due to his stature as a statesman that he forged by his action during these events.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was the 26th President of the United States. Member of the Republican Party, he emancipates temporarily to build his own party based on more progressive ideas. He is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his participation in the resolution of the war between the Russians and the Japanese. Its unique mandate is marked by the takeover of the Panama Canal, the adoption of consumer protection laws and a marked standstill on the rights of minorities. His presence on Mount Rushmore is a post-mortem reward for his efforts to increase the United States' place in the world.

Point de vue civilisationnel

From a civilization point of view, the monument is a real foothold to the Amerindians. Indeed, the territory of South Dakota was initially, at the arrival of European settlers, a property of the Cheyenne. They were chased out by the Lakota in 1776, and it was with them that took place the opposing events Amerindians and Americans. In 1868 a treaty signed between the two parties ensured that the territory would remain the possession of the Lakota, but this treaty was broken by the Americans who invaded their territory not even ten years later. Mount Rushmore was carved from 1925, 50 years later. Imagine the feeling of the Lakota, driven from their lands, sacralising the mountains they did not call Mount Rushmore, and seeing the appearance of four presidents, all in function during the fall of the Amerindian civilization. They lived it as an affront, a desire to assert white supremacy against the indigenous people.

To cope with this state of affairs, the Indian people as a whole support the construction of a similar memorial a few kilometers away. When finished, he will represent the Crazy Horse Chief on horseback, looking eastward. This monumental statue is under construction, slow construction because of the limited resources available to its promoters since obviously, the US can not finance a monument recalling the massacre of the Amerindians.


The history of the Mount Rushmore monument begins in the early twentieth century, exactly in 1923. Doane Robinson is quoted as the author of the idea that the mountains of South Dakota could be attractive from a tourist point of view. . Doane Robinson was from this state, he was a lawyer who was interested in history to the point of leaving behind the idea that he was a historian. He thought the Black Hills Mountains would be a good support for making a monumental sculpture similar to that made by artist Gutzon Borglum at Stone Mountain. It was a bas-relief depicting Thomas Jonathan Jackson, Robert Lee and Jefferson Davis, three important figures of the Confederate States, a work that is still visible today.

After trying to convince the sculptor Lorado Taft to get involved in the project, it is Gutzon Borglum who will agree to embark on the adventure. However, the site of the Black Hills was not suitable for the realization of the work he had then in mind, and which will prove to be close to the final work. The reasons for abandoning the site were mainly technical since the rock was too friable to be sculpted in good conditions. Moreover this friability gave a life expectancy to the relatively short sculpture. There were also discussions with the Indians because the Lakota, who lived here despite the plunder of land they had suffered, considered the mountains of the Black Hills were sacred, so it was difficult to attack without attracting the wrath of this important community. The choice has been postponed to another mountain, Mount Rushmore.

The second stage of the project was through the US Congress. Indeed, such a monument that magnified the history of the United States could not be done without, on the one hand significant funding, on the other hand an official agreement. This negotiation phase lasted until 1925, culminated in an agreement by acting President Calvin Coolidge, and then the creation of a commission that organized the details of the project. It was at this stage that the presidents were chosen. This phase was sensitive because 4 characters were planned, but George Washington, the first president of the United States, had no political party since the political system of the country started only later. It is the president who insisted that the distribution be made for the benefit of the Republican party (2 presidents) to the detriment of the Democratic party (1 president).

Works on G. Washington

Works on G. Washington

Then came the realization phase. It began with the sculpture of models. In the original model Thomas Jefferson was on the right of George Washington, but this configuration had to be abandoned at the time of realization because of the configuration of the rock, which did not correspond to the face of Jefferson. The next model thus included the 4 presidents as we see them nowadays, but with an important particularity: It was busts. Nowadays, we only see faces. This is of course due to the lack of funding at the end of the face carving, the project had to stop there when we should have seen sculptures from the top of the mountain to the ground.

In 1939 Gutzon Borglum had a workshop built on the site, where he made his models and directed the operations. The sculpture began in 1927 and continued until 1941. The construction site employed 400 workers who worked either at mass, sometimes at the mine bar, sometimes at the explosive. In particular, explosives were used to destroy the work that had been done on Thomas Jefferson when it was realized that the sculpture could not be completed (1934). The workers worked harnessed in ropes to prevent falls. Working conditions were harsh, but no casualties were reported. A railroad track was built, it allowed the transportation of materials easily. Working conditions have improved over time.

In 1933 the site was placed under the protection of the National Park Service who built the first infrastructure. The project was progressing well. George Wahington was completed on July 4, 1934, a symbolic date since it was the national holiday. In 1936 it was the turn of Thomas Jefferson. Abraham Lincoln's face was completed on September 17, 1937, and in 1939 it was Theodore Roosevelt's last. The last ? Yes, but it was not obvious at the time since additional funds were requested at the congress for the addition of the face of Susan Brownell Anthony (1820-1906), a civil rights activist who took part in the fight for women get the right to vote. However, this request was rejected due to a lack of resources, with the funders preferring to allocate this money to finish the four existing faces rather than creating new ones.

In 1941 the sculptor Gutzon Borglum died suddenly of an embolism. The monument was not quite finished yet, so it was his son Lincoln who took over the site. He completed the work of his father officially on October 31, 1941. At that time, the cost of the monument was almost $ 1 million.

Since that time the statues have not been modified, they have not been restored either. They are regularly maintained, with the regular cleaning of the faces and the removal of the vegetation that could grow there, like the moss, but that's all. On the other hand, the tourist infrastructures have been largely reworked since they only date back to 1990. It was at this time that the amphitheater, the reception center and, above all, the walking path were built to be able to to approach a little.


Go to the memorial

If you do not use the services of specialists in tourism, such as tour operators or official guides, you will necessarily use a particular vehicle to go to the site of Mount Rushmore. There are public bus connections, but this is not the fastest way. So, from Rapid City, take the US 16 Southwest. 26 miles further, you will cross the small town of Keystone, essentially consisting of shops. Continue for another mile, then take the fork on Route 244 to Mount Rushmore. You will not be able to miss it, just look up!

Droit d'entrée

The site is free! And yes!

But do not panic too much: In this country where money is king, you'll have to pay for parking, and it's $ 10. A kind of entrance fee to the site, what ...

But leave to do in originality, as far as the end: The ticket is valid for one year, which means that you can return as many times as you want, you will not have to pay the parking. It's very original, as a principle. And useful for the sound and light show, the evening. You can rest at the end of the day and come back at night, you will not have to pay back.

Otherwise, budget question, know that audio guides in several languages are available at a rate of $ 5 per unit, decreasing price for large families. And also that the site contains shops, of course.

At the reception of Mount Rushmore

At the reception of Mount Rushmore

Opening hours

The Mount Rushmore Memorial is open every day of the year except December 25, from 5 am to 10 pm. That's the opening hours of the car parks and the arrival of security. But the tourist infrastructures themselves are open from 8h to 22h from May to mid-August, from 8h to 21h from mid-August to the end of September and from 8h to 17h the rest of the year.

When to go

The good news is that there are no annual constraints related to weather or any other outdoor element, you can visit Mount Rushmore any day of the year. Of course, in the winter it's pretty cold in South Dakota (up to an average of -7 in January), we're in the North of the United States. Summer is the affluence that is embarrassing. But one in the other, they are not prohibitive periods.

However, visiting time is important. If you have the opportunity go early in the morning. This is simply because the monument faces east, so the Sun hits it in front of its lifting.

Where to park

The parking is small enough for such a site, but it seems enough. It is made in two parts, each of which can accommodate a hundred vehicles per level. Parking is paid at the entrance, there is a kind of toll.

No need to try to park elsewhere. This is possible of course, along the road or on forest areas a bit flat, but you will end up walking a lot to finally by much.


As a national memorial, the site is well equipped to take care of tourists, of course. Aside from the car parks, there is a visitor center that takes care of various questions or requests, such as organizing a private visit, a restaurant, an ice cream shop and a souvenir shop. There are all the necessary amenities, including for people with reduced mobility, except for the "hiking" part of the site. And it's a shame because this is the interest of this memorial, in addition to the view of the statues of course. But you have to be honest, build a wheelchair accessible trail and just not possible here.

Otherwise it is possible to rent the services of a ranger to visit the site, it is the equivalent of a guide, in a natural environment. In general it presents the site in 30 minutes, these are small sessions. If you prefer, there are also audio guides in several languages, they can be rented for 2 hours, the classic duration of an on-site visit.

to see

Overall, we can say that Mount Rushmore is an interesting tourist site to see. Maybe not enough to cross the United States to get there, but a trip to the North of the country must go through here, of course. There are different things to see, it's quite fun, but one in the other is also not the historical site where you will learn the most about the history of the United States. Besides the entire visit usually takes 2 to 3 hours, not much more.

The faces of the presidents

What marks when we arrive on the site, it is of course the sculptures of the heads of the 4 presidents, at the top of the mount. But seen from a distance, they seem very small. We know that it is impressive, but the visitor is, at the beginning of his visit, rather surprised. These 4 faces are the red thread of the visit. Throughout the elements to do or visit, they will be there, below us. When we approach by the path of the presidents we will be able to see them well, and all their magnitudes will appear then, as well as the details which one sees only closely.

No need to believe, we can not go to the feet of the faces (if we can say ...), but the course allows to get close to it, and that's really the interest of go to Rushmore Mountains.

Avenue of flags

It is a long alley that connects the visitor center to the amphitheater. A kind of utility passage that has been laid out to make it enjoyable.

It is a wide walk of about ten meters, perfectly paved with rectangles alternating white and black and bordered by a series of square pillars with shrouds. On each one, a flag, hence the name of this place.

There are 56 flags, these are the 50 American states plus the 6 territories. It's quite original, but a bit pompous for a site in the countryside. In fact, it's typically American.

Grand view terrace

It is a point of view, quite simply, but arranged for the general public. It is a large esplanade at the top of the amphitheater, at the end of the Avenue of Flags. The esplanade is 70m long by 15 wide and offers an unobstructed view of the monument. Of course this is where most of the visitors are concentrated, their nose in the air. Moreover speaking of affluence, it should be noted that this site is still very busy, especially by the Americans themselves. In particular, there are many school trips organized there, so expect to find a lot of people there. Before 10am, the affluence is quite acceptable.

Presidential trail

This is the path of the presidents. It is a landscaped path (for wheelchairs, alas) that starts from the bottom of the cliff and winds through the forest, past the monument. It is 800m long and climbs gently. It is a very pleasant walk to do that allows not only to walk a little, but to contemplate the monument closer. At the end of the road we are really very close to the faces, which gives a point of view quite different from what we have had so far.

In itself the path is really quiet, it is not tiring and in addition, it is well sheltered from the sun. His departure is at the level of the large view terrace, on the left and past the sculptor's studio.

The museum

The site hosts a small museum. His interest lies mainly in the two screening rooms it contains and who spend a 13-minute film on the history of the site.

Sculptor's studio

Translated by "The sculptor's studio", this small building is simply the real workshop of the sculptor Gutzon Borglum. It has been transformed into a museum.

The main piece of this museum is the scale model of the monument. It is an imposing work far more ambitious than what was actually built, proof that Mount Rushmore is unfinished. What is most striking is that the work has only faces while the project planned to carve the busts of presidents, and in particular that of George Washington, the most prominent. But the project was never finished, for lack of means.

Otherwise the museum also has reliefs of construction: The tools that were used, photos of the sculpture, workers and the artist, etc. It's not a very big museum, but here we understand how the monument was built. Curiously, there is little information on the reason for its construction.

The sculptor studio also has a projection room that spends a 30-minute film on the construction site.

The Indian village

As Dakota is an ancient Indian territory the local authorities decided to present the Indian culture in fun form. Thus, and to limit the polemics on the construction of this monument, can one see along the Presidential trail a reconstituted Indian village. Thanks to the objects and the tents, one understands their lifestyles, their cultures, their languages. There are some written explanations, besides. It is a little light compared to what this people has known, but the intention is laudable.

Sound and light

Mount Rushmore illuminated

Mount Rushmore illuminated

From mid-May to the end of September the site of the memorial presents a sound and light show, the evening (at 21h, 20h at the end of the season). This is a 40-minute film about US history, focusing on the four presidents of the monument: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Once finished the monument is illuminated for 2 hours every night.


Badlands National Park

It is a national park that is characterized by its rugged hillsides, its rugged terrain. Each mountain is streaked by erosion which brings out the successive layers of the soil. It's like being in the Grand Canyon, but far from it.

Custer State Park

This national park is known for its thousand wild bison. It is a large natural site where it is pleasant to circulate.

Ingalls' farm

Relic carefully preserved, this simple farmhouse is the place where grew the author of the novel "The little house in the meadow", from which was drawn the television series.

Crazy horse memorial

It is the Indian equivalent of Mount Rushmore. Huge sculpture of a mountain, it is still under construction. She represents a warrior of the Lakota tribe, who live on the spot. South Dakota was also home to Nakota Indians and Dakotas. This monument is entirely financed by donations because it is seen, from the American point of view, as a reminder of the Indian genocide perpetrated during the colonization of American lands. The Indians, on the contrary, had suffered Mount Rushmore as an insult to their history, the invaders building a monument to the glory of their rulers directly on their land. This monument is controversial ... But he is still progressing, little by little.

Wind cave national park

This national park is original because it is home to the largest network of caves in the world, at least according to those who live there. Still, many of these caves are visitable, and the name of "wind cave" (literally, "wind cave"), comes from the fact that they are sometimes open at many ends, causing currents of air.

In summary...

Mount Rushmore National Monument is a large sculpture located in South Dakota, about 30 kilometers from Rapid City, in the western part of the state. She represents the faces of four iconic presidents of the United States: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

The sculptor was Gutzon Borglum, who had already proved himself on monumental sculpture. The project of construction of this monument was proposed to the American Congress in 1923. In 1925 a commission was constituted to choose the presidents represented and in 1927 the work began. They lasted until 1941 and were terminated by Borglum's son Lincoln, who died abruptly in 1941 shortly before the completion of the work.

The monument represents, through these characters, the first 150 years of the history of the United States. Each president had a significant role that structured the country, and it is the real purpose of this monument that to make perceive this history. George Washington, as the first president, represents the birth of the Nation. Thomas Jefferson was a popular president who advanced the idea of ​​open-mindedness. Abraham Lincoln managed to maintain the unity of the country during the Civil War, and Theodore Roosevelt developed international relations, multiplying the influence of the country in the world.

Mount Rushmore has become an important tourist site over time. It welcomes every year 3 million visitors who are distributed on the esplanade, a large space where you can admire the 4 faces, a hiking trail along which was installed the sculptor's studio and the reconstruction of an Indian village, a museum, and many tourist services.


The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located in South Dakota, a state in the north-central United States. Specifically, it is on the Keystone territory in Pennington County. It is a tiny town of 337 (2010) whose motto is "Home of the Mount Rushmore", which could be translated as "the homeland of Mount Rushmore", which identifies the city at the memorial. Keystone is in Southwest South Dakota, a state whose capital is Sioux Falls. The nearest big city is Rapid City, about forty kilometers to the north.

To get there, you have to go to Sioux Falls, then use a light vehicle, which is more convenient. Regular bus lines also exist but are impractical. Otherwise, from the main cities of the region there are organized excursions to the visit of the memorial, you will find easily everywhere.


In itself the monument is not that big. It is 62m long, in a straight line, from the beginning of George Washington's face (left) to the end of Theodore Roosevelt's. The faces are 18m high. It's a beautiful panorama ...

The entire site is approximately 700m long by 300 wide, all inclusive. We are therefore on a tourist site of rather modest size.


Mount Rushmore is not one of the sites registered at UNESCO as World Heritage. It is "only" an American national memorial, therefore a recognized monument of historical interest for the United States.

Curiosities, anecdotes

The memorial is visited each year by 3 million visitors. By way of comparison, the Statue of Liberty has 4, the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal have 7, and the Forbidden City of Beijing 10.

Did you know that there is a secret chamber at Mount Rushmore? No, we are not talking about the senseless cave that we see in the film "Benjamin Gates and the Book of Secrets", but a real artificial cave, cut by hand in the 30s by the workers of the sculptor Gutzon Borglum. This cave is at the top of the mountain, behind the top of the skulls. The entrance is rectangular, but the cavity has not been completed due to lack of funds. According to the artist's wishes, a chest containing 16 enamelled porcelain panels on which are found various texts explaining how the presidents were chosen, the site, how the work was done and a brief history of United States. If you look at an aerial photo of the site you will see it well.

Once the faces were finished, the sculptor planned to add a fifth face, that of Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), activist for women's suffrage. But he could not implement his project for lack of means.

It was also the lack of means that prevented the end of the work: It was planned to carve the whole mountain to make the bust of the presidents.

A few kilometers away, another monumental statue is emerging, that of the Indian Crazy Horse chief. This statue will be in memory of all the dead American Indians, for the safeguard of the heritage of this civilization. It is obviously not viewed favorably by the authorities who see the highlight of a dark period in the history of the United States. Moreover, its erratic financing, only private, advance the sculpture by jerk.

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