William Earl Dodge


About the sculpture

This section is an excerpt from  Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan (OMOM).

At the dedication of this sculpture in 1885, Mayor of New York Abram Hewitt spoke about the importance of portrait sculptures and the significance of Dodge:

It is the highest honor which can be paid to a citizen, that his memory and features shall be preserved in bronze or marble for the reverent homage of future generations. As a rule, the lapse of time and the favorable judgment of posterity should decide the claim for such eminent recognition. We have not yet erected statues to Fulton, who gave us steam navigation, or to Dewitt Clinton, who created [the Erie Canal,] the highway of commerce which has made New-York great and rich. All men will agree that too much honor cannot be paid to the memory of such public benefactors by the generations which have inherited their glory and profited by their genius. ...

Even with all his virtues fresh in our minds, and with the fruits of his long and well-spent life in our possession and enjoyment, we cannot venture to compare [Dodge's] unquestionable merits with the achievements of the great men who laid the foundations of our commercial supremacy. But there are men who can wait for recognition, and there are, on the other hand, characters which demand present recognition, if recognition is ever to be given.

Although Dodge was a businessman, like Vanderbilt and Rea (OMOM #25, 20), his statue doesn't stand staunchly, confidently upright as theirs do. Instead Dodge sways elegantly as he rests an elbow on a pile of books atop a column, gazing meditatively into the distance. If the pillar were removed, Dodge would fall over. That makes the pillar an important part of the sculpture, one we have to consider, in contrast with the much less obtrusive pillar behind Washington (#6).

What, then, does the combination of the pillar, the books and Dodge's swaying pose tell us? That Dodge is to be remembered not only as a wealthy man, but as an elegant gentleman of learning and culture. A contemporary writer praised this sculpture for capturing Dodge's fine appearance and cordial manner as he delivered a speech, so perhaps the folded paper in his right hand contains notes. Given Dodge's incessant involvement in committees (see About the Subject), it would certainly be appropriate to represent him speaking publicly.

Dodge introduces an interesting point about commemorative sculpture in New York. While not everyone would admire Dodge's focus on charity, his fellow members of the Chamber of Commerce did. They paid for this statue in 1885 so that passersby who recognized Dodge's face or name could remember, admire and emulate him. Dodge had lived the sort of life that many New York businessmen claimed to approve, even if they didn't follow Dodge's lead.

All the nineteenth-century portrait sculptures in this volume—from Washington to Conkling, from Holley to Hunt (OMOM #6, 18, 11, 38)—were erected with the aim of providing models. This, remember, is a prime function of art: to remind us of important values in an easy-to-grasp, visual form. (See OMOM #8, 30.)

About the subject

This section is an excerpt from  Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan (OMOM).

William Earl Dodge (1805-1883) co-founded Phelps Dodge, one of the world's foremost copper producers. From 1834 to 1860, while Dodge was its leading partner, Phelps Dodge expanded from importing metals to promoting American mining, including Pennsylvania iron and Lake Superior copper.

Dodge himself was nicknamed "the Christian Merchant." How did he reconcile business and religion? By splitting his efforts. He managed Phelps Dodge, but sat on dozens of charitable committees. He worked hard to become wealthy, but gave away untold thousands of dollars to charities, often anonymously. His own riches he justified on the grounds that

Poverty is something to fly from. It stints the growth and usefulness of man. Christ bore it; but he bore it as he did other wretched conditions and surroundings of mortality—to show that it can be nobly endured. The poor man walks from hour to hour along the slippery edge of temptation, and is in momentary danger of falling into the bottomless pit.

Even his colleagues in the Chamber of Commerce, who admired Dodge's charitable efforts and contributed the funds for this statue, recognized that Dodge's widely dispersed efforts would make him far less memorable than men such as Clinton, Vanderbilt or Cooper (OMOM #48, 25, 10). As Hewitt said at the statue's dedication, some characters "demand present recognition, if recognition is ever to be given."

Further reading