Peter Cooper

  • Sculptor: Augustus Saint Gaudens
  • Pedestal: Stanford White
  • Dedicated: 1894
  • Medium and size: Overall 20 feet; bronze figure (approximately 6 feet), granite pedestal and canopy, pink marble columns
  • Location: Cooper Square south of the Cooper Union, where the Bowery splits into Third and Fourth Avenues
  • Subway: 6 to Astor Place

Cooper whole

Cooper figure

Cooper’s Description of the First Run of the "Tom Thumb"

Tom Thumb replica

Above: Replica of the Tom Thumb

Cooper described the first run of his new locomotive:

After a great deal of trouble and difficulty in accomplishing the work, the stockholders came, and thirty-six men were taken into a car, and, with six men on the locomotive, which carried its own fuel and water, and having to go up hill eighteen feet to a mile, and turn all the short turns around the points of rocks, we succeeded in making the thirteen miles, on the first passage out, in one hour and twelve minutes; and we returned from Ellicott's Mills to Baltimore in fifty-seven minutes.

This locomotive was built to demonstrate that cars could be drawn around short curves, beyond anything believed at that time to be possible. The success of this locomotive also answered the question of the possibility of building railroads in a country scarce of capital, and with immense stretches of very rough country to pass, in order to connect commercial centers, without the deep cuts, the tunneling, and leveling which short curves might avoid. My contrivance saved this road from bankruptcy. -- Cooper, Sketch of the Early Days of Peter Cooper, 1877

Cooper Union

Cooper Union

When erected in 1860, the seven-story Cooper Union was the tallest "skyscraper" in Manhattan. It was also New York’s first fireproof building, constructed with iron and terracotta. The Union’s Great Hall was the scene of speeches by Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass, as well as the “Right Makes Might” speech (2/27/1860) that established Abraham Lincoln’s anti-slavery platform. 

New York Remembers Peter Cooper

From the New York Times, 1883:

Mr.Cooper lived to see the straggling unkempt City of New-York emerge from its chrysalis state to be the magnificent and overflowing Metropolis that it is to-day, gifted with innumerable inventions for the annihilation of time and space, built with enduring stone and iron upon unshakable foundations, stretching from the waters of the Bay of New-York to the pastures of Westchester, and sending its waves of population far into the remote hills of New-Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island. To live to see all this was a life worth living. The memory and the example of Peter Cooper, the practical philanthropist, the best exponent of a man-loving, God-fearing, and utilitarian age, survive to inspire and bless unnumbered generations. --“A Practical Philanthropist,” New York Times 4/5/1883

New York Mayor Franklin Edson said,
A self-made man, Mr. Cooper thoroughly sympathized with those who began life with no other capital than industry and character. So soon as he had by energy and thrift gained a modest competence for his own modest requirements, he devoted his efforts to the single purpose of aiding his fellow men to obtain an honorable self-support through their own intelligent exertions. --"The City in Mourning. Tributes to the Memory of Peter Cooper," New York Times 4/6/1883

At the dedication of this sculpture in 1897, the New York Times wrote:
The statue which was unveiled yesterday in the little park before the Cooper Institute is a noble monument to a noble man. No one in the history of New York has left a memory quite like that of Peter Cooper, one blended of such deep respect and such general and genuine affection. … The old-fashioned simplicity of his appearance and bearing, the quaint dignity of his large frame and his rugged but tranquil countenance, his unaffected pleasure in all the public meetings which to the last he was fond of attending, were impressive and winning. --"Peter Cooper," New York Times 1897

Augustus Saint Gaudens

Saint Gaudens (1848-1907) is arguably the greatest sculptor America has produced. Born in Dublin, he was brought to New York City as an infant. He worked as a cameo-cutter while studying art at Cooper Union, then studied for several years in Paris. Farragut, 1881, was his first major commission. Other significant works include the Puritan, 1886 (Springfield, Mass.); the Standing Lincoln, 1887 (Chicago); the Adams Memorial, 1891 (Washington), and the Shaw Memorial, 1897 (Boston).

Aside from Farragut, Manhattan has Cooper and Sherman, 1903. The Metropolitan Museum's American Wing has several of his works, including Diana, 1894 (a copy of the weathervane from Madison Square Tower). Staten Island has Richard Randall, 1884, at Snug Harbor, and Brooklyn has the David Stewart Memorial, 1883, in the Green-Wood Cemetery. At Theodore Roosevelt's invitation, Saint Gaudens designed the famous "Walking Liberty" ten-dollar gold piece in 1906.

 For more on Saint Gaudens, see “Artist-Entrepreneurs: Saint Gaudens, MacMonnies, and Parrish,” available as a taped lecture from the Ayn Rand Bookstore.

Cross References

Copyright (c) 2013 Dianne L. Durante