Which Presidents are Featured in Mount Rushmore?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

When sculptor Gutzom Borglum completed his work on Stone Mountain in Georgia, he resumed his campaign to create a national memorial on a much grander scale. Borglum eventually settled on Mount Rushmore, a massive granite outcropping in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Mount Rushmore was an ideal site because of its soft granite composition, its imposing height and southeastern exposure, which allowed it to remain in sunlight for most of the day. Borglum selected four presidents as subjects — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

George Washington, shown here in a portrait, is featured on Mount Rushmore.
George Washington, shown here in a portrait, is featured on Mount Rushmore.

The selection of George Washington for the monument worked for a number of reasons. Washington represented the American spirit of independence, since he commanded the first army against occupying British forces in Colonial America. Washington was also instrumental in forming the country's federal government system, serving as its first president. President Washington's face was the first one completed by Borglum and his crew on Mount Rushmore in 1930.

Thomas Jefferson on Mount Rushmore.
Thomas Jefferson on Mount Rushmore.

Thomas Jefferson was the second president selected for the Mount Rushmore monument. Jefferson's accomplishments during the Revolutionary War, especially the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, inspired others to pursue political careers. Jefferson himself served as a governor of Virginia and as Secretary of State under President Washington himself. As the country's third president, Jefferson continued to work towards expanding both the physical and philosophical borders of the United States. Borglum chose President Thomas Jefferson for the monument because of his statesmanship and vision.

The third president featured was Abraham Lincoln, credited with preserving the integrity of the United States during the turbulent times of the Civil War. While Borglum selected younger images of Washington and Jefferson for his work, he selected the familiar bearded face of an older Lincoln as representative of the president's unwavering determination. One interesting fact about Borglum, is that he named his own son Lincoln after the late president he admired so much.

The fourth president featured on Mount Rushmore was perhaps the most controversial selection made by Borglum. President Theodore Roosevelt had only been dead for 8 years when Borglum finalized his list of subjects. Theodore Roosevelt was one of the nation's youngest presidents, and his youth and vitality served him well. President Roosevelt helped to develop the national park system, and also led the country away from isolationism and into the world arena. The image of President Roosevelt even includes his distinctive pince-nez eyeglasses.

As it turned out, Gutzom Borglum had already developed a close friendship with Theodore Roosevelt before he took office in 1901. Borglum admired Roosevelt's assertive personality and unflagging enthusiasm, qualities Borglum also used to his own advantage while lobbying Congress for funding of his Mount Rushmore project. When Borglum died in 1941, future plans for Mount Rushmore appeared to die with him. Although discussions of adding more presidents to the site surface periodically, to date there have been no serious efforts to commission new sculptures.

Abraham Lincoln became the third president immortalized on Mount Rushmore.
Abraham Lincoln became the third president immortalized on Mount Rushmore.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments



@wesley91: There was also controversy over Mt. Rushmore because some were alleging that there was a racial superiority theme brought on by the Manifest Destiny. Mt. Rushmore was carved with Borglum’s choice of presidents that were active during the time of the acquisition of Indian land.

It has been said that Gutzon Borglum was the center of much controversy because he was an active member of the Ku Klux Klan.


@wesley91: You are absolutely correct! There has been controversy regarding Mt. Rushmore since the 1800’s. After the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877, the United States seized the land (where Mt. Rushmore is) from the Lakota tribe. The Treaty of Fort Laramie from 1868 had granted the Black Hills to the Lakota but was still taken from them by the United States.

The first Native American superintendent of the park was appointed in 2004.


I can remember learning about Mt. Rushmore in history class but that was many years ago. For some reason, it seems that we learned about some type of controversy with Mt. Rushmore but I can't remember what it was. Does anyone know anything about that?

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