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The monument was the brainchild of a South Dakota historian named Doane Robinson, who was looking for a way to attract more tourists to his state. He hired a sculptor named Gutzon Borglum to carve the faces into the mountain. According to the National Park Service, the first face to be chiseled was George Washington’s; Borglum first sculpted the head as an egg shape, his features added later. Thomas Jefferson’s image was originally fashioned in the space to the right of Washington, but, within two years, the face was badly cracked. Workers had to blast the sculpture off the mountain using dynamite. Borglum then started over with Jefferson situated on the left side of Washington.
Washington’s face was the first to be completed in 1934. Jefferson’s was dedicated in 1936–with then-president Franklin Roosevelt in attendance–and Lincoln’s was completed a year later. In 1939, Teddy Roosevelt’s face was completed. The project, which cost $1 million, was funded primarily by the federal government.
Borglum continued to touch up his work at Mount Rushmore until he died suddenly in 1941. Borglum had originally hoped to also carve a series of inscriptions into the mountain, outlining the history of the United States.