• Sculptor: Daniel Chester French
  • Dedicated: 1907
  • Medium and size: Marble (ranging from 9.5 to 11 feet), each pedestal about 9 feet
  • Location: In front of the United States Customs House, facing Bowling Green between State and Whitehall Streets
  • Subway: 1, 4 or 5 to Bowling Green


Above: Asia


Above: America


Above: Europe


Above: Africa

Wheels of Progress

The man next to America pushes a wheel of progress. Other wheels of progress appear at Grand Central Terminal (see Glory of Commerce): look for them on the arches over the semi-circular windows of the Concourse ceiling.

wheel of progres

Above: The wheel of progress as a locomotive wheel, acting as a support for the porte-cochere on the south side of the former headquarters of the New York Central Railroad (48th St. between Park Avenue and Vanderbilt). 

Cornice Sculptures

The sculptures on the cornice of the Customs House represent nations engaged in international trade through the ages.

cornice left

  • Greece and Rome, both by Frank Edwin Elwell
  • Phoenicia, by Frederick Wellington Ruckstull
  • Genoa, by Augustus Lukeman, who also did the Straus Memorial

cornice center

  • Venice and Spain, by Mary Lawrence Tonetti
  • Center: cartouche with the seal of the United States surmounted by an eagle, by Karl Bitter, who also did the Schurz Memorial. Flanking the cartouche: Peace and Strength, also by Bitter (on the fasces, see Washington at Wall St.)
  • Right of the cartouche: Holland and Portugal, by Louis Saint Gaudens, younger brother of Augustus Saint Gaudens

cornice right

  • Denmark, by Johannes Gelert
  • Belgium, Albert Jaegers. The figure of Belgium was Germany until World War I, when anti-German sentiment became so intense that the statue’s nationality was changed.
  • France and England, by Charles Grafly

“But playing a zombie will not give you omniscience”

The Continents show states of mind. When I look at the figure on the far right, I’m reminded of of these lines from John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged.

Do not say that you’re afraid to trust your mind because you know so little. Are you safer in surrendering to mystics and discarding the little that you know? Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life. Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority. Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience - that your mind is fallible, but becoming mindless will not make you infallible - that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. --Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Daniel Chester French

French (1850-1931, b. Exeter, N.H.) was one of America's most notable sculptors. He studied with John Quincy Adams Ward and with Thomas Ball in Florence. Among his most notable works are the Minuteman, 1875 (Concord, Mass.); the Milmore Memorial, 1893 (copy at the Metropolitan Museum); the enormous Republic for the 1893 Columbian Exposition (smaller reproduction still standing on the south side of Chicago); the doors of the Boston Public Library, 1904; the Melvin Memorial (Mourning Victory, 1908; copy in the Metropolitan Museum) and the Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, 1922 (Washington).

Aside from works in the Metropolitan Museum, Manhattan has the Hunt MemorialAlma Mater, and Four Continents. Brooklyn has allegorical figures of Brooklynand Manhattan, ca. 1900 (in front of the Brooklyn Museum), and a lovely relief of Lafayette, 1917 (9th Street entrance to Prospect Park).

Cross References

  • As George Washington's secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton was responsible for devising a plan to fund the federal government. Four sculptures in Manhattan honor Hamilton: one in Central Park, one near Hamilton Grange, one on the Columbia University campus near Jefferson, and one on the facade of the Museum of the City of New York, near De Witt Clinton.
  • Audrey Munson was probably the model for several of the Continents: see the Straus Memorial.
  • Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan discusses the details of each sculpture in more detail, includes a quote from the New York Times (1906) on the new Customs House, and has a sidebar with a quote from Daniel Chester French.

Copyright (c) 2013 Dianne L. Durante