Alexander Lyman Holley

  • Sculptor: John Quincy Adams Ward
  • Pedestal: Thomas Hastings
  • Dedicated: 1890
  • Medium and size: Bronze bust (approximately 3.5 feet), limestone pedestal (9 feet high at center)
  • Location: Washington Square, west of the central fountain
  • Subway: A, B, C, D, E, F, V to West 4th

Hollley whole

Holley head

The Wonders of Steel-Making

Holley vividly described how the Bessemer steel-making process looked:

A million balls of melted iron tearing away from the liquid mass, surging from side to side and plunging down again, only to be blown out more hot and angry than before. Column upon column of air, squeezed solid like rods of glass by the power of 500 horses, piercing and shattering the iron at every point, chasing it up and down, robbing it of its treasures, only to be itself decomposed and hurled out into the night in a roaring blaze. As the combustion progresses the surging mass grows hotter, throwing its flashes of liquid slag. And the discharge from its mouth changes from sparks and streaks of red and yellow gas to thick full white dazzling flame. But such battles cannot last long. In a quarter of an hour the iron is stripped of every combustible alloy and hangs out the white flag. The converter is then turned upon its side, the blast shut off, and the carburizer run in. Then for a moment the war of the elements rages again - the mass boils and flames with higher intensity and with a rapidity of chemical reaction, sometimes throwing it violently out of the converter's mouth. Then all is quiet, and the product is steel, liquid, milky steel that pours out into the ladle from under its roof of slag, smooth, shiny, and almost transparent. – Alexander Lyman Holley, quoted inElting E. Morison, Men, Machines and Modern Times (M.I.T. Press, 1966)

In 1868, even the New York Times marvelled at the mass production of steel:

It is neither magic nor alchemy, but straightforward, inductive reasoning and downright, patient, organized, costly work that lays open the great unknown, and utilizes its treasures.

The modern revolution in metallurgy is, perhaps, less striking, but more wonderful than all the others. The wonder of ocean telegraphy is new every morning, while the furnace smokes silently and unobserved. But the smoke of the furnace will tell you tales of nature's secrets unlocked, of startling transformation, of fathomless search, of baffling experiment, of patient endeavor, of endless obstacles, of intellects gone made, or money burned up, of a forlorn hope fighting against the Powers of the Air, but fighting to win.

Of all the agencies in the material progress of the times, iron, in its various forms and combinations, holds the first place. Its loss would be a calamity only surpassed by the loss of bread; while its cheaper, wide and better production would electrify every human enterprise. …

We have thus briefly referred to the grandeur and the difficulty of the great material problem of the age, not to account for failure, but to celebrate success. -- "The Bessemer Process. The Production of Cheap Steel in America. Completion of the Parent Works at Troy,” New York Times 8/9/1868 

Holley’s Fading Pedestal

The tripartite pedestal for Holley was designed by architect Thomas Hastings of Carrere and Hastings, the firm that later designed the New York Public Library, the Frick mansion and the western approach to the Manhattan Bridge. Inscriptions (now nearly effaced) give Holley's name and the dates of his birth and death, plus an explanation of why he was commemorated:

In honor of Alexander Lyman Holley, foremost among those whose genius and energy established in America and improved throughout the world the manufacture of Bessemer steel, this memorial is erected by Engineers of Two Hemispheres. 

John Quincy Adams Ward

As a young man, John Quincy Adams Ward (1830-1910) worked with Henry Kirke Brown on the Washington at Union Square, dedicated in 1856. Far earlier than his contemporaries, War believed American sculptors should present American ideas and be trained in America: he never studied abroad. He was the leading American sculptor for fifty-odd years, known as the "Dean of American Sculpture." Indian Hunter, 1869 (Central Park, near the Mall), established his reputation.

Manhattan has Washington, Greeley, Holley, Conkling, Dodge and Shakespeare, as well as the Seventh Regiment Memorial, 1869(Central Park, West Drive at 67th Street) and the Pilgrim, 1885 (Central Park, east end of the 72nd-Street Traverse). The original sculptures of the New York Stock Exchange pediment were Ward's, but they've been replaced with copies. Brooklyn has Henry Ward Beecher, 1891 (Columbus Park).

Cross References

  • Shown in the first segment: Washington at Union Square, Lincoln, Columbus in Central Park, Sherman, Cooper, Sims, Vanderbilt, Bryant.
  • On the expansion of railroads in the United States, see CooperHolley, Vanderbilt, Glory of Commerce, and Rea. This photo, which flashes by in the second segment, is the meeting of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads at Promontory Summit in 1869, which created America’s first transcontinental railroad.

Promontory Summit

Copyright (c) 2013 Dianne L. Durante