100 Dears of Solitude

John Harvard Finishes His First Century

The John Harvard statue has been painted green and blue snowed on and sat on, covered with banners and regularly coated with chemicals. Yet it looks as good as it did 100 years ago.

Sculpted by Daniel Chester French--an MIT dropout who received an honorary Harvard degree in 1917--the statue was brought to Harvard and dedicated in October, 1884.

French called it "the greatest statue in the country, although he apparently had difficulty finishing it. He was not used to working in bronze; he is better renowned for sculpting the marble Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

According to Richard M. Hunt, the University Marshal. Harvard has no current plans to celebrate the 100th birthday of its most recognizable landmark. Yet Hunt says that the statue is one of the most photographed in the world.

Three Lies


The "three lies" of the statue are well known: it does not resemble a likeness of John Harvard, since no one knows what he really looked like (Sherman Hoar, Class of 1882, served as a model for the head, although French claimed it was an idealized image): John Harvard was not actually the "founder" of the College, but rather willed "his library and half of his estate" (about 400 books and about 800 pounds) to the two-year-old school at what was then called Newtowne in 1638, and the date referring to Harvard's Founding, 1638, is late by two years.

There's even a fourth discrepancy a book on the Harvard seal at the base of the statue is reversed perhaps due to the difficulties of casting a letter over an open book.


French first began to model the statue in clay in September 1883. He created the costume for the state from the dress of Puritan clergymen of the time. He wrote in December, 1883 that Hoar had sat for the head.

On April 20, 1884, French wrote to his brother that the clay model for the statue was finished, although he said. "I am sometimes scared by the importance of this work. It is a subject that one might not have in a life-time and a failure would be inexcusable. He made the legs thin, since Harvard is known to have died of tuberculosis.

The statue model was cast in plaster and the design completed by that May. Its casting took three and one half months, done in New York by the Henry-Bonnard Bronze Company. It was set on its pedestal, designed by C. Howard Walker, a Boston architect, on October 10, 1884.

Statue Unveiling

A large crowd assembled in Sanders Theatre for the debut of the statue on October 15, 1884. Austin and Sever Halls, designed by H. H. Richardson (Class of 1859), had just been completed and Jefferson was still under construction.

At the unveiling, Rev. George E. Ellis, Class of 1833, remarked that "as far as man's high gifts can supply the want of a true model, the sculptor has so far moulded the bronze figure of John Harvard. He rests his hand on the open tome between his knees, and gazes for a moment into the future, so dim, so uncertain, yet so full of promise, of promise which has been more than realized."

The gathering included President Eliot, the sculptor French, and Samuel J. Bridge, donor of the statue, who had received an honorary degree in 1880. The statue reportedly cost over $20,000.