William Penn (1890, cast 1892)

by Alexander Milne Calder (1846 - 1923)

Photo Caption: Photo Alec Rogers © 2016 for the Association for Public Art

Commissioned by the City of Philadelphia

Owned by the City of Philadelphia

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At A Glance

  • Over 36′ tall and weighs more than 53,000 pounds

  • One of Philadelphia’s most prominent landmarks

  • Completed in 1892 and hoisted to the top of City Hall in 1894

At over thirty-six feet tall and weighing more than 53,000 pounds, Alexander Milne Calder’s sculpture William Penn atop City Hall is one of Philadelphia’s most prominent landmarks. Completed in 1892 as a city public works project, the work was hoisted to the top of City Hall in 1894.

“William Penn” remained a dominant point in Center City’s skyline because of a “gentlemen’s agreement” that no skyscraper would be built higher than the brim of Penn’s hat.

Calder based his depiction of Penn holding the charter of Pennsylvania on thorough research of the colonial period. For example, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania helped determine the kind of clothing Penn would have worn.

Because the sculpture would be viewed from a distance, Calder sought to interpret Penn in a highly legible way. He later claimed bitterly that the statue was incorrectly installed facing northeast instead of south – throwing its features into perpetual shadow. In fact, early drawings showed the statue facing northeast toward Penn Treaty Park, the site of his legendary treaty with the Lenni Lenape Indians.

William Penn remained a dominant point in Center City’s skyline because of a “gentlemen’s agreement” that no skyscraper would be built higher than the brim of Penn’s hat. Thus, a single work of art exerted a profound influence on the city’s architectural development. In 1986, the gentlemen’s agreement was finally broken, but “Billy Penn” continues to command the long vistas of Broad Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Adapted from Public Art in Philadelphia by Penny Balkin Bach (Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1992).

Voices heard in the Museum Without Walls: AUDIO program: Greta Greenberger was the Tour Guide Director for Philadelphia’s City Hall Tours and Visitor Center for 25 years. She was responsible for conducting tours of City Hall for visitors and school groups. Timothy Rub is the former Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a former trustee of the Association for Public Art.  | Segment Producer: Bruce Wallace

Museum Without Walls: AUDIO is the Association for Public Art’s award-winning audio program for Philadelphia’s outdoor sculpture. Available for free by phone, mobile app, or online, the program features more than 150 voices from all walks of life – artists, educators, civic leaders, historians, and those with personal connections to the artworks.


This artwork is part of the Along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway tour, and the Around City Hall tour.

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