Carving Mount Rushmore
Reading Comprehension Activity

Mount Rushmore is an iconic US landmark in South Dakota. It features the sculptures of four US Presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Students will read a passage, about the creation of Mount Rushmore. Students will answer questions about details, making inferences, and defining words.

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The granite faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln tower amidst southwestern South Dakota’s pine-covered mountains. Sometimes called the Shrine of Democracy, Mt. Rushmore National Monument is one of the most recognized monuments or memorials in the United States. The story behind this beloved monument is complicated and fascinating.

A South Dakotan named Doane Robinson hatched a plan to attract visitors to the lightly populated state. He proposed giant mountain carvings of explorers and notable Native Americans. Lewis and Clark, Sacajawea, and Red Cloud topped his list. However, Mt. Rushmore’s sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, disagreed. He decided that only presidents would do. Borglum chose four. They represent the birth of the United States and its growth and development. 

Some people objected, arguing that any mountain carving was wrong. Others rejected the idea because the Black Hills are sacred to Native Americans. In fact, at one time, the United States government had agreed that the land belonged only to Native Americans. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 barred all white people from Paha Sapa, the Native American name for the Black Hills. The treaty came about after the Lakota leader Red Cloud and other Native Americans warred against the United States. However, the treaty was broken after less than a decade when people swarmed the Black Hills to search for gold. 

Despite objections to carving Mt. Rushmore, the U.S. Congress and the South Dakota Legislature gave their approval. Work began in October 1927. Borglum was an experienced mountain carver. He had worked on the Confederate Memorial Carving at Stone Mountain, Georgia. 

Borglum had left Stone Mountain long before it was finished due to many conflicts. He often proved difficult to work with at Mt. Rushmore, too. He demanded his own way and had a strong personality. Moreover, he was a perfectionist known for firing excellent workmen. Lincoln Borglum, Gutzon’s son, would then hire the workers back. 

Although Borglum was often tough, he was able to push the 14-year project to success. The project took so long not only due to its size, but also because money was often in short supply. Borglum often lobbied, or asked, Congress for further funding. In the end, Mt. Rushmore cost slightly under $1 billion dollars. Most of the money came from the U.S. government. 

When Mt. Rushmore was finally finished, each president’s face measured about 60 feet tall. Their eyes are each 11 feet across!

About 400 people helped chisel Mt. Rushmore. Workers climbed 700 stairs up the mountain and then were lowered over the mountain in special chairs hanging by cables. They worked during blazing hot summers, frigid winters, and in windy conditions. They set off small charges of dynamite to complete about 90 percent of the carvings. Workers used 75-pound jackhammers or hand tools for the remainder of the work. Despite many dangers, not one person was killed during the carving of Mt. Rushmore.

Comprehension Questions

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