William E. Dodge Monument
Backstory and Context
William E. Dodge was born in Hartford, Connecticut on September 4, 1805. He was the son of David Low Dodge, a dry goods merchant who owned stores in Hartford and New York City, and also managed cotton mills in Norwich, Connecticut. After receiving some formal education, Dodge began a practical one when he went to Norwich to work as a clerk in the office of his father’s mills. In 1818, at the age of thirteen, he moved to New York City to work in his father’s dry goods business. After working in his father’s dry goods store for eight years and saving up as much money as he could, Dodge and a friend formed Huntington & Dodge, a wholesale dry goods firm, which became successful. In 1831, Dodge married Melissa Phelps, a daughter of Anson G. Phelps, a successful metals importer and friend of his father. Two years later, he sold his interest in Huntington & Dodge and, along with his father-in-law, formed Phelps, Dodge & Co. The firm grew quickly and eventually became the largest importer of metal in the United States. In addition to his business with the firm, Dodge invested extensively in railroads, timberland in Pennsylvania and Michigan, mines in Minnesota and New Jersey, and mills in Connecticut and New Jersey.
Possessed of incredible wealth, Dodge increasingly turned his attention to civic activities during the last three decades of his life. In 1855, he became a member of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York. Twelve years later, members elected him president of the organization, a position he would hold for eight years. Dodge contributed to the founding of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). A staunch advocate of total abstinence from alcohol, he served as president of the National Temperance and Publication Society for nearly two decades. Dodge was also a strict Sabbatarian and gave liberally to various religious organization throughout the city. He served as a Republican in the Thirty-Ninth U.S. Congress from April 1866 to March 1867. During his brief time on Capitol Hill, Dodge served on the Committee on Foreign Affairs and advocated for moderate Reconstruction policies. On February 9, 1883, he died at his home on Madison Avenue at the age of seventy-seven. His remains were interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
Shortly after Dodge’s death, his friends and acquaintances in the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York formed a committee to erect a monument in his honor. They commissioned sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward to design a bronze statue of Dodge and architect Richard Morris Hunt to build a pedestal on which it would rest. Dedicated on October 22, 1885 in Herald Square, the monument consisted of an over-life-sized bronze statue of Dodge standing while delivering a speech. The statue rested on a granite pedestal, which included a drinking fountain, a nod to Dodge’s efforts on behalf of the temperance movement. In 1941, the monument was relocated to the northeast corner of nearby Bryant Park. The original pedestal designed by Richard Morris Hunt was discarded and replaced by a new granite pedestal. In 1992, the monument underwent a complete restoration as part of comprehensive renovation of the park by the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation.
"A Good Life-Work Ended: The Career of William E. Dodge Suddenly Closed." The New York Times, February 10, 1883.
Beckert, Sven. The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850-1896. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
"Dodge, William Earle." Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress, 1774 - Present. Web. 15 December 2020 <https://bioguideretro.congress.gov/Home/MemberDetails?memIndex=D000397>.
"William E. Dodge." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Web. 15 December 2020 <https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-E-Dodge>.
"William Earl Dodge." New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The City of New York. Web. 15 December 2020 <https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/bryant-park/monuments/389>.