Gutzon Borglum

Borglum Seeks Help in Moving the Mount Rushmore Project Forward

Borglum Seeks Help in Moving the Mount Rushmore Project Forward


In this important letter, famed sculptor Gutzon Borglum asks Treasury Department attorney John Harlan for assistance in securing funding, power to the site, and additional personnel for the upcoming work season, beginning in the spring of 1936.


On August 30, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended the unveiling and dedication of Thomas Jefferson’s face on Mount Rushmore.


GUTZON BORGLUM, Typed Letter Signed, to John Harlan, October 12, 1935. 1 p., 8.5" x 11". On “Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission” stationery. Includes unsigned response from “CTE” to Borglum, November 6, 1935. 1 p., 8.5" x 11". Holes punched in sides and top.



“I want to start about April the first and I want some agreement for adequate power and a hoist. I want to increase my force by about twenty to thirty men, so that I suggest that the budget for 1936 and 1937 should be about $140,000.  What I mean is that we shall need $100,000 from July 1st, 1936 to July 1st, 1937, and I shall need money for April, May and June 1936....”


Historical Background

In 1923, South Dakota historian Doane Robinson conceived the idea of giant carvings in the Black Hills to promote tourism in South Dakota. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum chose Mount Rushmore because it had the exposed granite to support sculpting and faced southeast with maximum exposure to the sun. The project received Congressional approval in March 1925 and began in October 1927. Initial estimates were that the project would take five years and cost $500,000.


Over the next fourteen years, Borglum and four hundred workers completed the carvings by blasting and drilling away 450,000 short tons of rock from the mountainside, with no fatalities. The total cost was just under $1 million. In 1933, the National Park Service assumed jurisdiction of Mount Rushmore. Washington’s face was dedicated on July 4, 1930, followed by that of Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937, and Roosevelt in 1939.


After Gutzon Borglum’s death in March 1941, his son and assistant sculptor Lincoln Borglum continued the work until October 1941. Originally planned to include carvings from head to waist, the project ended due to insufficient funding, and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial was declared complete.



Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) was born in Idaho territory to Mormon Danish immigrants. He studied art in California, where he met his first wife, artist Elizabeth Janes Putnam (1848-1922), whom he married in 1889 and divorced in 1908. They spent much of the next ten years traveling and exhibiting their works in Europe. In 1909, Borglum married Mary Montgomery Williams (1874-1955), and they had three children. Borglum soon became known for public sculptures on American nationalistic themes. The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased one of his sculptures in 1906, the first it had ever acquired by a living American. Among his other major works are a head of Abraham Lincoln from a block of marble, a mounted statue of Civil War General Philip Sheridan in Washington, D.C., the North Carolina monument at Gettysburg, and many others. A member of the Ku Klux Klan, Borglum was the original sculptor of the carving on Stone Mountain, Georgia, before clashes with the local committee led him to abandon the work. From 1927 to 1941, Borglum completed his most famous project, the 60-foot-high carvings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. For the latter half of the project, his son Lincoln Borglum served as his Assistant-Sculptor.


John G. Harlan (1891-1992) was born in Pennsylvania, and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and the George Washington University Law School. In 1916, he married Anna Marie Durning (1892-1927), and they had three children. From 1922 to 1926, he was special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General in Washington. Harlan served as Assistant U.S. District Attorney in El Paso from 1926 to 1928, when he resigned to practice law there. In 1929, he accepted a position in the income tax bureau of the Treasury Department. He co-authored the “Gold Clause” that removed the United States from the gold standard in 1933. By 1935, he was an Assistant to General Counsel Herman Oliphant of the Treasury Department. He also acted as an attorney for Gutzon Borglum, especially in Borglum’s negotiations with the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission.




Item: 66978

Price: $900.00
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Gutzon Borglum
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