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January 29, 2022

The Original Design of Mount Rushmore Before Funding Ran Out in 1941

A photograph shows the original design of Mount Rushmore — complete with each leader’s suited bust — before funding ran out in 1941.

Gutzon Borglum’s scale model that was used for carving the colossal sculpture ensemble at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, southwestern South Dakota, U.S.

Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore was originally envisioned by Idaho-born sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who intended each figure to be its own standalone statue complete with detailed clothing from their respective time periods. 

But that’s not exactly how it played out. 

In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge promised federal funding for the project, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon secured full funding under the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Act, but Borglum declined, saying that he would only accept half and match the rest with private donations dollar for dollar. This, as it would later be revealed, was a major oversight. In total, the bill authorized funds up to $250,000 (equivalent to $4 million in 2022).

This is the final version of the plaster model used to carve Mount Rushmore located in the second studio at Mount Rushmore which was built in 1939 and finished in 1940.

As the Depression struck the U.S. in the 1930s, then-Sen. Peter Norbeck of North Dakota worked to maintain that construction would continue through emergency relief programs that were part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, a program aimed at providing jobs to Americans through the construction of infrastructure, among other things. Funds from the New Deal were then matched with money allocated in the original bill. Funding was erratic and unpredictable and when the money ran dry, so did the work.

In the last two years of construction. Borglum traveled to secure funding while his son, Lincoln, would supervise construction. He died in Chicago following surgery on March 6, 1941. His death and the project’s lack of funds, coupled with logistical issues and the impending American involvement in World War II, ultimately led to the project being declared complete on Oct. 31, 1941.

(via Snopes)


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