Historical Photos of Mount Rushmore Before the Famous Faces

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Mount Rushmore before the Presidents faces were carved in. It used to be known as the Six Grandfathers | U.S. National Park Service

This fantastic set of historical photos shows how Mount Rushmore went from being a distinct rockface known as the Six Grandfathers to the national monument it is today.

The photos, pulled from the National Park Service and the Library of Congress, detail how the 60-foot high faces of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln came to look out from the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Mount Rushmore
Construction underway, with Jefferson to the left of Washington before unstable rock necessitated a change in the design | U.S. National Park Service
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Plaster model created by Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum. The studio was on-site and measurements were taken from the model and transferred to the mountain | U.S. National Park Service
plaster of Mount Rushmore
An on-site model depicting Mount Rushmore’s intended final design after Jefferson was relocated and ‘before funding ran out’ | Library of Congress
George Washington Rushmore
George Washington’s face emerging from Mount Rushmore | U.S. National Park Service
Scaffolding around Jefferson’s face in 1936 | U.S. National Park Service
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Construction of George Washington | Library of Congress

A Brief History

The Lakota Sioux knew Mount Rushmore as the Six Grandfathers Mountain in an area of the Black Hills that was sacred to the Native people of the Great Plains.

In the 1800s, white settlers began pushing into the area warring with the local tribes. In 1868, the Treaty of Fort Laramie was signed giving the Lakota exclusive access to the Black Hills.

However, gold was discovered nearby and the U.S. reneged on the treaty and took control of the area. It was after that a New York attorney called Charles Rushmore inquired about the name of the mountain while visiting on business. He was told it didn’t have a name so it was named after him.

Seeking to boost tourism, the idea for a sculpted monument of notable Native Americans was floated. However, after hiring American sculptor Gutzon Borglum, he convinced them to make it a memorial of national significance.

Despite local opposition, the four presidential heads of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln were carved using dynamite, pneumatic hammers, drills, and chisels. The project began in 1927 and finished in 1941.

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln | U.S. National Park Service
Sculpture maintenance being performed on the Lincoln head. One worker sits in a bosun chair on the nose, while another worker is standing on top of the sculpture to the left of Lincoln’s hair | U.S. National Park Service
Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of Mount Rushmore, is shown here in a Bosun’s chair inspecting the work on the memorial. Workers used the Bosun’s chairs, suspended from above, while they drilled with jackhammers into the granite | U.S. National Park Service
Dynamite being prepared by John Johnson | U.S. National Park Service
A driller uses a jackhammer drill to honeycomb the granite while carving Mount Rushmore. This was one of the final stages in removing the excess rock during the carving process | U.S. National Park Service
The face of Abraham Lincoln under construction in 1936 | U.S. National Park Service
Aerial view of Mount Rushmore with many workers on the faces, scaffolding in place on top of the heads, and stairwells still in place for workers to scale the mountain | U.S. National Park Service
Sculptor Gutzon Borglum plants a U.S. Flag at the top of Mount Rushmore, October 1, 1925 | U.S. National Park Service
A completed Mount Rushmore | U.S. National Park Service

Last month, PetaPixel reported on historical photos of the surprising popularity of electric cars in the Vicotrian-era, 100 years before Tesla.

Image credits: The U.S. National Park Service and the Library of Congress.