BORGLUM IN BOSUN’S CHAIR, 1930 Rise Studio, Rapid City, South Dakota, photo courtesy of the US National Park Service, Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Gutzon Borglum was a well-known sculptor before he was invited to South Dakota to carve Mount Rushmore. He studied with Rodan in Paris and already had carved two well-known busts of Presidents Lincoln and Roosevelt. When Robert Lincoln saw the bust of his father, Abraham Lincoln, he stated, "I never expected to see father again." Borglum's carving of President Theodore Roosevelt is on display in the rotunda of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Borglum was commissioned to carve Stone Mountain in Georgia, but disagreements over design and money caused him to leave the job early and unfinished.
Borglum was a man filled with a patriotic spirit and great ambition. He was invited to the Black Hills by Doane Robinson to see if a mountain carving was possible. Borglum wanted to carve a mountain to prove that it could be done. From 1927 until 1941, he directed all operations at Mount Rushmore and successfully carved the four presidential faces. Workers at Mount Rushmore recall Borglum, who they referred to as "the Old Man", being a very particular boss. Everything had to be done to his liking.
Borglum was also a great salesman. He was relentless in his pursuit to obtain funding for the project. He met with Congressmen, Senators and several Presidents to gain their support. Borglum kept locals interested in the carving by holding several celebrations and dedication ceremonies.
Borglum’s son Lincoln was his father’s right hand man. He worked at several positions including the crucial positions of ”pointer” and work superintendent. Lincoln worked for several years on the mountain without pay. Being the boss' son did not guarantee he would be liked or have an easy time working with the other men. Indeed, many saw Lincoln as a young man who had lived a privileged life. However, Lincoln's quiet, friendly personality and strong work ethics soon won everyone over. He was well liked by all.
In March of 1941, as a final dedication of the mountain was being planned, Gutzon Borglum had surgery in Chicago. Following the surgery, a blood clot caused an embolism from which Borglum did not recover. He died on March 6, 1941. After his father died Lincoln tried to obtain more funding for the project, but was left with just $50,000. This was enough money to operate through the summer of 1941. With war looming the carving operation officially ended on October 31, 1941 leaving it as it appears today.
After World War II, Lincoln tried again to get funding to complete his father’s dream of carving the Hall of Records, but there was no money available to complete the project.
When visitors come to Mount Rushmore today and look up at the faces of the four Presidents, they are not just looking at four great leaders, they are looking at the work of two great men: Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum.