Mount Rushmore is one of the most recognizable sculptural landmarks in the United States. Although it is now regarded as a memorial to four great leaders in American history, Mount Rushmore was originally built simply to attract more tourists to South Dakota.
Doane Robinson was South Dakota’s state historian when he originally suggested the idea for a massive granite sculpture in the state’s Black Hills region. Robinson envisioned carvings of Western heroes—including Sioux chief Red Cloud and Buffalo Bill Cody—at a site of large granite pillars called the Needles.
The project’s sculptor, Danish-American Gutzon Borglum, altered Robinson’s vision significantly. Borglum thought that featuring four U.S. presidents would bring more national appeal to the project. He also said the granite pillars were too thin to support any significant amount of carving, and therefore chose the granite mountain known as Mount Rushmore instead.
Despite the changes to his original vision, Robinson ultimately got his wish: Mount Rushmore National Memorial is one of America’s most popular tourist attractions, welcoming nearly three million visitors annually.