Commemorating Mt. Rushmore via postage stamp

It’s fun to visit a place and see iconic features we’ve been exposed to through media and popular culture: The Empire State Building in New York City; the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.; El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California; and of course, one closer to home — Mount Rushmore.

For a quick history lesson, the idea of sculpting a mountain to promote tourism in South Dakota was suggested by historian Doane Robinson in 1923, and when sculptor Gutzon Borglum first saw Mount Rushmore, he reportedly said, “America will march along that skyline.”

On March 3, 1925, Congress approved the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission, with four presidents selected for the sculpture who made important impacts in the first 150 years of American history: George Washington, the father of our country, representing the birth of the nation; Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the Declaration of Independence, representing the growth of the nation; Abraham Lincoln, who preserved the union during the Civil War, representing the preservation of the nation; and Theodore Roosevelt, who connected the east and west through the Panama Canal, representing the development of the nation.

The construction to create the four faces on the mountain began on Oct. 4, 1927, with Borglum and a team of 400 workers sculpting the 60-foot carvings, which were completed on Oct. 31, 1941. Since then, the national memorial has been developed with a trail, visitor center, museum, studio, and more, bringing in millions of visitors annually.

In its history, the memorial has been featured on a United States postage stamp four times. Michael Samp details the first three stamps in the 1991 article, “Mount Rushmore as seen on stamps” in the May/June edition of South Dakota Magazine. This was during the memorial’s 50th anniversary (this year we are coming up on the 79th anniversary of Mount Rushmore’s completion), with a commemorative stamp printed for the 50-year celebration. 

Samp describes that “it took some political muscle to get the presses rolling with likenesses of the four presidents” for the first two stamps that featured Mount Rushmore. According to Samp’s article, the front cover of the 1952 state highway map featured a photograph of Mount Rushmore, featuring a mother and son sitting on a bench gazing up at the four faces. “The photo, which soon became the inspiration of the first Rushmore stamp, was taken by a young University of South Dakota law student, Robert Frankenfeld, while he was employed as part-time publicity director for the S.D. State School of Mines. The models were his wife, Phyllis, and their small son, Donald,” Samp writes.

The director of publicity for the State Highway Commission at the time, A.H. “Pank” Pankow, came up with the idea of a stamp to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Aug. 10, 1927, ceremony when President Calvin Coolidge handed Borglum the tools to start carving the mountain. Pankow formed a committee, along with U.S. Rep. E.Y. Berry and Sen. Francis Case, to get approval from the U.S. Postal Service for the stamp.

Berry’s daughter, Nila Lee Berry, used Frankenfeld’s photograph as the inspiration for an illustration, and the words, “Black Hills South Dakota” were added to the drawing. A sign in the illustration has the words, “Mount Rushmore National Memorial 1927-1952,” as well. 

Alas, I am out of room for the week — stayed tuned next Friday for more of the story.

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