In 1927, Calvin Coolidge selected the Black Hills of South Dakota for his annual three week vacation, and liked it so much that he stayed for a full three months. The resulting windfall of publicity is universally credited with launching the area’s modern tourism industry.
Just how (and who) persuaded the 30th president to visit the Black Hills is arguable, but there is little doubt that the “the President’s visit to South Dakota was a turning point in the history of Mount Rushmore [and in turn, state tourism]. The project benefitted not only from Coolidge’s outright support, but from the publicity which attended his stay as well… The New York Sun, Times, and Herald Tribune carried long stories during the summer on Borglum and his venture into gigantic sculpture. For the Black Hills in general, the vast flow of news surrounding the presidential visit made millions of people aware for the first time of the area’s tourist attractions.”
The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, took advantage of the President’s presence to stage an elaborate dedication ceremony complete with pomp and newsreels (there had already been a dedication in 1925, but the anticipated funding had not materialized, and the project was languishing). He took the added precaution of requesting Coolidge’s help in composing a suitable inscription for the proposed carving. Since Silent Cal was not particularly noted for his sterling prose, it is probably safe to assume that the request was a calculated stratagem to garner the President’s support. And it worked: upon his return to Washington, Coolidge endorsed legislation to provide funding (albeit matching) for the memorial.
Today Mount Rushmore is the premiere tourist attraction in the state. In 2012 the national memorial hosted 2.5 million visitors. Its collateral effect brought 1.8 million people to Custer State Park and over 883,406 to Badlands National Park. Visitors spent nearly $229.7 million, for a total economic impact of $1.98 billion. Tourism employs 27,958 South Dakotans.
What if Calvin Coolidge had selected another state for his 1927 vacation?