A worker hangs from an eyelid on the face of Mount RushmoreMount Rushmore offers insights into American history topics including the Great Depression, government and the arts, Native American rights, presidential history, the creation and management of public lands, government appropriations, and memorializing the past. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this website to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into four categories: history, economics, geography, and civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.

Civics

1a. Read excerpts from the documents in the Hall of Records, learn about the contest for the Entablature inscription and share your stories with AMERICAN EXPERIENCE. One of the documents in Mount Rushmore's Hall of Records states that the four Presidents on Mount Rushmore "commemorate the founding, growth, preservation and development of the United States." Explain the specific accomplishments of each of the four Presidents to which this statement refers.

1b. Imagine that you have been selected to oversee the addition of a fifth figure to Mount Rushmore; this person need not have been President but must symbolize what you think has been the most important change in the United States since the era of Theodore Roosevelt. Whom would you choose, and why?

1c. In 2002, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE held an essay contest. The topic question: if the Park Service ever were to add an inscription to Mount Rushmore, what do you think it should say? Divide the students into small groups and conduct the exercise in your own classroom. Ask each group to think of the most important thing that could be inscribed on Rushmore for future generations. Each group should write an essay and present it to the rest of the class. Have the class judge the essays and select the best. Then have students read the prize-winning essays on the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE website, and discuss the main points of difference between their essays and the winning essays. Do they think their own essays are better than the winning essays? Why or why not?

2. Divide the class into groups of three students each. Each group should prepare a recommendation for a national memorial to the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and present its recommendation to the class, along with a sketch of the proposed memorial and information on where it would be located and how it would be financed. In their conversations about what kind of memorial to recommend, students should consider existing monuments and memorials and discuss what elements of those monuments are (or are not) effective; the website of the National Park Service contains links to places such as the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that students might want to consult.

History

1. Gutzon Borglum wrote that "tomorrow is strangely the enemy of today, as today has already begun to forget buried yesterday." What objects in your home serve as reminders of the past? Bring one such object to class and tell your classmates about its history and significance.

2. Create two posters: one for a monument that is located in or near your community, and a second one for a nationally known monument in another state. Each poster should be illustrated with a photograph or drawing of the monument and should include the monument's name, location, size, cost, the years in which it was built, and purpose. For ideas on nationally known monuments, you might want to consult the website of the National Park Service.

Economics

1a. Take the interactive tour of Mount Rushmore, Carving a Mountain. Among the facts you find there are that the total cost of the Mount Rushmore memorial was $989,992.32 and that federal appropriations accounted for $836,000 of that amount. What percentage of the memorial's total cost was covered by government funds?

1b. Create a pie chart that shows graphically the share of the memorial's total cost that was covered by government and non-government funds.

2. Draw a political cartoon that expresses your view on whether the government, at a time of terrible national difficulty -- the Great Depression -- should have spent public funds to build Mount Rushmore. When each student has prepared a cartoon, post them around the classroom and hold a class discussion on which cartoons are most effective.

Geography

1a. Read about Native Americans and Mount Rushmore. Define "desecration" in your own words. Why might some Native Americans consider the Mount Rushmore memorial a desecration?

1b. In your opinion, is the carving of the Crazy Horse memorial an appropriate response to Mount Rushmore? Explain your viewpoint.

1c. Describe a place that is sacred to you; it may be a public place (such as a house of worship) or a private place that has special meaning for you. Why did you choose this place?

2. Assign each student a different state (omitting South Dakota) and have students find one national monument in that state. Then, using a wall map of the United States, have each student place a small sticker on the location of the monument they researched; the sticker should name the monument and its location. After all students have marked the map, the class should identify the location of Mount Rushmore.


My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

From the Empire State Buiding to the carvings on Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Space Needle, the U.S. has dozens of impressive, important, and iconic structures. Which ones have you been to? Which has had the biggest impact?