Mount Rushmore In Miniature circa 1925
Sculptor Gutzon Borglum's scale model for the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, featuring US Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, Rise Studio, circa 1925.Vintage Images—Getty Images
Mount Rushmore In Miniature circa 1925
Mount Rushmore construction in 1929.
Franklin Roosevelt at Mount Rushmore in 1936.
Mount Rushmore under construction in 1936.
Sculpting Eyes Of Roosevelt On Mount Rushmore circa 1939.
Construction of George Washington section of Mt. Rushmore Monument, circa 1941.
Construction of Thomas Jefferson section of Mt. Rushmore Monument, circa 1941.
Scaffolding around head of Abraham Lincoln only partially sculptured during Mount Rushmore Monument construction, circa 1941.
Sculptor Lincoln Borglum on the scaffold below the stone face of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt on the Mount Rushmore Memorial in April 1944.
The memorial at Mount Rushmore under construction circa 1941.
Sculptor Gutzon Borglum's scale model for the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, featuring US Presidents
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Vintage Images—Getty Images
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Mount Rushmore Is 75. See Early Photos of the Monument Under Construction

On Oct. 31, 1941—75 years ago Monday—work ceased on the iconic Mount Rushmore monument, the massive South Dakota sculpture from which four of America's most beloved presidents gaze out over the landscape.

Though the sculpture did not yet match the original designs by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, by the time it was completed it had been in the works for years, as these photos show. According to the National Park Service, the 400 workers who made it happen had to climb 700 steps every single day, before beginning the dangerous dynamite work that earned them $8 a day.

But in fact, the 14 years of construction don't even tell the whole story. Borglum had been employed since 1915 designing a massive monument to the Confederacy in Georgia, but, after public support for that idea dwindled during the 1920s and he fell out with the funders, he was replaced on the project by another sculptor in 1925—at which point, "seeking employment," as TIME reported then, he went to South Dakota to meet with prominent citizens about them hiring him to carve "historic figures" in the Black Hills, an idea that had been floating around since 1923. When he asked which national heroes those Dakotans could imagine on their hill, they named George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

The project site was eventually selected at Mount Rushmore, and Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson joined their fellow presidents in the plans. The project was underway. In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge officially dedicated the monument. Individual dedications for the figures took place in 1930 (Washington), 1936 (Jefferson), 1937 (Lincoln) and 1939 (Roosevelt).

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In 1941, Borglum died of a heart attack, his monument unfinished.

Lincoln Borglum, Gutzon's son, continued to supervise project until the end of that season—they had to stop every winter and restart in the spring—but would not pick it back up in the spring. Though the monument did not yet match the designs, it was declared finished. It was clear America would soon become involved in World War II, and the government funds that had been sustaining the project were needed elsewhere.

See the Evolution of Mount Rushmore

The sculptor of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, with a model of the four presidents that included arms and hands.
The sculptor of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, with a model of the four presidents that included arms and hands.Bill Groethe
The sculptor of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, with a model of the four presidents that included arms and hands.
Mount Rushmore with the face of George Washington first beginning to appear, c. 1930s.
A closer view of the face of Thomas Jefferson under construction, with drill marks below it, c. 1930s.
George Washington's face under construction, c. 1930s.
Workers take a break atop the mountain, c. 1930s.
A powderman positions dynamite charges used to sculpt Mount Rushmore, c. 1930s.
From left: Gutzon Borglum and nine workers who sit in bosun chairs as they prepare to begin their work, c. 1930s.
The faces of Washington and Jefferson with the pulleys used to raise and lower the work platforms for men and equipment visible, c. 1930s.
Tourists stopped to view Mount Rushmore while it was still under construction, c. 1930s.
The head of Thomas Jefferson under construction, taken from atop Lincoln in 1939.
The head of Theodore Roosevelt under construction, c. 1930s.
The head of Abraham LIncoln under construction, c. 1930s.
The 50th Anniversary dedication of Theodore Roosevelt on July 2, 1989.
Mount Rushmore, as it appears today, with visitors climbing atop the monument.
The sculptor of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, with a model of the four presidents that included arms and hands.
Bill Groethe
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By the time the Lincoln portion turned 50 in 1991, it was clear that the fight would continue, even if the sculpting did not. "Environmentalists decry the busts as a desecration of nature," TIME reported. "New Republic writer Alex Heard identified Gutzon Borglum, Rushmore's eccentric creator, as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. And the Sioux Indians charge that the memorial is sculpted from sacred land that was stolen by the government."

And yet those four men continue to gaze upon the nation they helped shape. By one estimate, it will be 108 million years before nature reclaims the rock. Though the sculpture's creator and its very existence may be subject to reassessment in the light of three-quarters of a century, the monument itself is there to stay—and to impress.

"There is something in sheer volume that awes and terrifies, lifts us out of ourselves," Borglum once said, "something that relates us to God and to what is greatest in our evolving universe."

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