Guest post: ChatGPT on Peter Norbeck

Mount Rushmore, one of Norbeck’s key legacies, as rendered by DALL·E, an AI image generation companion to ChatGPT. Apologies to Theodore Roosevelt, who was omitted from the AI-generated image.

Last month, this blogger asked ChatGPT to write a post about South Dakota’s youngest and oldest governors. The experiment was largely a failure; the post misidentified the state’s oldest governor, included numerous factual errors and, most egregiously, invented an entirely fictional historical figure that it identified as South Dakota’s youngest governor.

That post has received renewed interest due to a mention on Power Line blog this week, and that inspired this blog to give ChatGPT another chance. It did a better job this time, although still not perfect. The prompt was: “Write a 500-word post for a South Dakota history blog, about the career of Peter Norbeck.” Here is what it wrote:

Peter Norbeck: The Visionary Architect of South Dakota’s Progress


South Dakota’s rich history is dotted with remarkable leaders, and one name that shines brightly is Peter Norbeck. A man of vision and determination, Norbeck left an indelible mark on the state’s development as its 12th Governor and later as a United States Senator. His enduring legacy is visible in the remarkable landscapes and infrastructure that define South Dakota today. Join us as we delve into the career of Peter Norbeck, a true visionary and architect of progress.

Early Life and Entry into Politics

Born in 1870 near Vermillion, South Dakota, Peter Norbeck grew up amid the rugged beauty of the Black Hills. As a young man, he developed a deep appreciation for the state’s natural wonders, which would become a driving force in his political career. Norbeck entered politics as a state senator in 1897, displaying a passion for public service and an unwavering commitment to improving the lives of South Dakotans.

Governorship and Legacy of Vision

Norbeck’s gubernatorial tenure from 1917 to 1921 marked a period of transformative change in South Dakota. Fueled by his love for the state’s natural resources, he championed the development of its parks, roadways, and tourism industry. Norbeck spearheaded the creation of Custer State Park, now an iconic landmark known for its abundant wildlife and breathtaking landscapes. He also initiated the construction of the Needles Highway and the Iron Mountain Road, engineering marvels that harmonize with the Black Hills’ rugged terrain.

Norbeck’s vision extended beyond infrastructure. He recognized the importance of preserving South Dakota’s cultural heritage and established the State Historical Society, which continues to safeguard the state’s past. Moreover, he advocated for rural electrification, believing that all South Dakotans should benefit from modern conveniences, and played a crucial role in the creation of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, a testament to the state’s national significance.

Senate Career and Conservation Advocacy

After his governorship, Norbeck served in the United States Senate from 1921 until his death in 1936. As a senator, he continued to champion conservation efforts and worked tirelessly to protect the Black Hills and other natural wonders. Norbeck was instrumental in the passage of the National Park Service Organic Act, which established the framework for preserving and managing national parks across the country.


Peter Norbeck’s career as a governor and senator left an indelible imprint on South Dakota’s landscape and identity. His dedication to preserving the state’s natural beauty and advancing infrastructure continues to inspire generations, ensuring a vibrant future for the state he loved so dearly.

That’s a reasonably good overview of Norbeck, although there are several inaccuracies:

  • The title and introduction are evocative of Norbeck’s legacy and well-stated, although Norbeck was the 9th Governor, not the 12th.
  • Norbeck was born in 1870 near Vermillion but, although his career would come to be associated with the Black Hills, he did not grow up there. He was raised in rural Charles Mix County.
  • Norbeck served in the State Senate, but his service began in 1909, not in 1897.
  • The first paragraph about Norbeck’s governorship is entirely correct. The second is almost entirely wrong. He did not establish the State Historical Society (that was Charles Herreid), he was not an advocate for rural electrification (there was no such thing in 1917-21), and his advocacy for Mount Rushmore came during his U.S. Senate career, not while he was governor.
  • The U.S. Senate paragraph is pretty good, although it is incorrect in crediting Norbeck with the passage of the National Park Service Organic Act; that passed in 1916, before he was a U.S. Senator.
  • The conclusion, like the introduction, is well done.
  • The biography also omits some fairly important points. It never refers to Norbeck as a “progressive” or makes any reference to his advocacy of state-owned enterprises. It doesn’t mention his leadership of the state during World War I. And it doesn’t mention his work in the U.S. Senate for the creation of Badlands National Monument, Grand Teton National Park, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, or the Securities Exchange Act.

All-in-all, ChatGPT did a better job on Peter Norbeck than it did on its first foray into SD gubernatorial history – there is no Crawford H. “Chet” Taylor in this post – but it still remains an imperfect resource for South Dakota history.