U.S. Steel’s Iconic Sculpture Still Resonates Today

“Michael, we’re bigger than U.S. Steel.”

That famous line was delivered by Hyman Roth to Michael Corleone in The Godfather, the iconic film ranked by AFI as Number 2 in their Top 100 Films.

Those six words continue to introduce generations of viewers to what the powers-that-be understood many years before the film premiered . . . the importance and prominence of U.S. Steel.

First listed in 1901 with Dow Jones, and a 1957 original member of S&P 500, U.S. Steel was one of the world’s largest steel producers. After numerous reorganizations, spin-offs and re-branding, “Today, over a century after its founding, U.S. Steel remains the largest integrated steel producer headquartered in the United States.”

Designed by Gilmore D. Clarke, U.S. Steel was commissioned to build the world's largest globe and free-standing sculpture, Unisphere.

Knowing the history and skills within U.S. Steel, Robert Moses, president of the 1964-65 World’s Fair Corporation said, “What stronger, more durable and more appropriate metal in the record of American constructive accomplishments could be thought of than stainless steel. And what builder more imaginative and competent than the United States Steel corporation.”

And, nobody ever argued with Robert Moses. So it began, Unisphere, designed by Gilmore D. Clarke, took orbit as the symbol of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.

Although the Eiffel Tower was originally scheduled to be disassembled after Paris’ 1889 International Exposition, it was designed to be its centerpiece. And, while Unisphere was imagined to be of equal stature, it would have no equal. True to form, Robert Moses envisioned Unisphere as a permanent centerpiece for the ages.

On-site construction of this 45-ton beauty took 162 days to complete. It measures
140 feet high, 120 feet in diameter, and tilts at Earth’s angle of 23-1/2 degrees.

Seemingly floating in air are three orbit rings anchored to the structure by aircraft cable. Each ring weighs three tons, and represent the paths of the first man-made satellites launched in the late 1950s.

Mountain ranges appear in relief on continents affixed to curved, tubular steel lines of latitude and longitude. Park attendees marveled as magical, twinkling lights portrayed the locations of great capital cities of the world. And, understanding the symbolic importance of Unisphere, the request asked by Mohawk ironworkers was honored. The Indian Reservation capital, Kahnawake, was represented and proudly shined.

Ahhh, the 1964-65 World’s Fair opened April 21, 1964 with Unisphere as its symbol, and, indeed, jaw-dropping centerpiece. It is the largest globe ever constructed, and the world’s largest free-standing sculpture. Located at Flushing Meadows Park in the Borough of Queens, New York, visionary Robert Moses commissioned its construction to be an iconic landmark from its inception.

Widely recognized as the ”master builder” of mid-20th century, urban planner Moses left his mark throughout New York State, but sadly didn’t live to enjoy Unisphere’s landmark status. Moses, 92, died at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, New York on July 29, 1981. Fourteen years after Moses’ death, on May 16, 1995, Unisphere was recognized by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and officially “. . .  designates as a Landmark the Unisphere with its surrounding pool and fountains . . ..”

The World’s Fair welcomed over 51 million visitors, far below the anticipated 70 million, and was not considered a financial success. But time has a way of rounding the corners; today, the World’s Fair, which celebrated the dawn of the space age and whose theme was ”Peace Through Understanding”, is looked at fondly and resonates.

“It had to be of the space age, it had to reflect the interdependence of men on the planet Earth, it had to emphasize their achievements and aspirations.” That was Robert Moses’ explanation of Unisphere, and it still rings true over 50 years later.

Fifty men and 50 women from all over the world have been selected as the star travelers who will embark on a one-way ticket to establish a human settlement on the planet Mars; and Queens reflects the interdependence and harmony Moses aspired to achieve. With Unisphere prominent in its landscape, Queens has a population of over 2 million, which includes over 15,000 American Indian, and is the most ethnically diverse urban area on our blue orb.

While the World’s Fair technically closed October 21, 1965, it continues to embody its original mission statement. Apparently, the World’s Fair was a success after all — especially to me . . . a West Islip, New York resident, one of the millions of visitors, and proud daughter of a Local 361 Ironworker: Building For the Future.

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