In the final days of February 1929, exactly one week before leaving office, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill allocating $250,000 to the ambitious task of carving the figures of four former presidents into Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills. By signing this bill into law, Coolidge promised the Black Hills community and the rest of the nation that the project would be completed, and that promise forever changed the Black Hills.
Just two years earlier, Coolidge and his wife Grace vacationed in the beautiful hills, staying in the State Game Lodge at Custer State Park. While there, the couple enjoyed attending rodeos, fishing in the streams, and even getting a little lost in the woods.
Many in the area strived for the president’s attention including Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who recently took on the carving project at Mount Rushmore and delved into it whole-heartedly. The ever-theatrical Borlgum decided to invite Coolidge to a ceremony at his mountain canvas by renting a plane, flying above the president’s summer residence and air-dropping an invitation. Borglum’s plan succeeded and Coolidge attended the ceremony dedicating the beginning of construction by bestowing Borglum with six ceremonial drill bits. Coolidge, sporting his new cowboy boots, gave a speech in praise of the project by stating “…the people of the future will see history and art combined to portray the spirit of patriotism.”
It took fourteen years, 400 men and women, and the blasting of nearly 450,000 tons of rock to carve the “Shrine of Democracy.” Today, Mount Rushmore breathes life into the Black Hills tourist economy and provides millions of visitors every year with a beautiful view and a classic family photo.
To learn more about Calvin Coolidge and his visit to the Black Hills please visit Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online exhibit 1927: Calvin Coolidge and the Summer White House. View more historical photos of Mount Rushmore on the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s Digital Archives.