Mount Rushmore is not just big; it is about bigness — a monument to monumentalism. John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum was obsessed with America’s size: the heroic story of a handful of tiny East Coast settlements growing to engulf an entire continent. The four presidents were chosen largely for their roles in this expansion. Jefferson, for instance, not only wrote the Declaration of Independence but also greatly increased the country via the Louisiana Purchase. Teddy Roosevelt oversaw the creation of the Panama Canal, which increased America’s global reach.
The sculpting of Mount Rushmore began in 1927, with a ceremony overseen by President Calvin Coolidge, who wore a comically large hat. Work spanned 14 years, encompassing some of the defining spasms of American history: the Great Depression, the beginning of World War II. Separate dedication ceremonies were held for each of the four faces; Franklin Roosevelt himself came to dedicate Jefferson. The sculpture was finished one month and one week before the attack on Pearl Harbor.