Planning Mount Rushmore

In 1927, sculptor Gutzon Borglum began work on what was to become one of the most iconic landmarks in the world: Mount Rushmore. Whilst preparing to start work on the gigantic sculpture, initially intended to feature just the heads of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Borglum wrote the following letter – complete with a very rare prelimanary sketch – to his friend and collaborator Jesse Gove Tucker to discuss his current progress and plans.

Transcript follows.


Metropolitan Club
Washington, D.C.

My dear Jesse:

This is the first time I’ve been alone for it seems weeks and now only because a friend has failed in an appointment = so I’m sending you a line – I’ve had a two hours talk with Norbeck, who you know is head of the Black Hills park. I can’t tell you all we talked about but it amounts to this. He goes home as soon as congress adjourns and jumps at once in to the monument work = meantime I go to Texas on the fifteenth stopping in Raleigh: where you and I should have a talk = that talk should deal with the question – number of men – money necessary to start and possibly cut the Washington Head on shoulder of cliff this summer. Very little cutting required, state will furnish power drills, tents and studio. They have some money = I shall not need any this year, as much as I need that work shall be under way. I want to make the models small one is now done – Then I want to turn the job over to you or Villa under my guidance. When we meet we will go carefully into costs and I will fix things so you can take up the work as you wish. It would mean a great deal to me to have this going at once – please do not say anything about it but bear in mind the stone is this shape. So you see there is little real cutting:


I want if possible – you spend a couple of days with me at Raleigh and then I’ll push on to Texas although I don’t want my plans known.

The Big Sims needed for the big work is well in sight – and I have no worry about it = What we must do now is organize our selves – and start = The Stephens Statue came from the Governor’s Committee of the State of Ga. – and I’m curious to see what the effect will be in Atlanta = Coin Sale here is failure – This is their final effort = and now they tell me Lackman has quit and a cheaper contractor is to do the work.

What this all means I don’t know – but what is really being done is as disgraceful as it would be possible to imagine – I did not believe when they failed to get a sculptor – failed to get money – failed to get public sympathy they would still persist in letting a man of this commercial type of stone cutter contract for work this report tells me they are doing.

Well my affairs are going better – It’s time and the long sad service is over—that is I have plenty of new and very remunerative work in hand = that is beginning to pay above my expenses = give my love to your dear family = Cliff and Charles —

Affectionately Yours

(Signed, ‘Gutzon Borglum’)

Haven’t time to read this over.