Who’s On Top Of Philadelphia City Hall?

Philadelphia City Hall is built in the ornate Second Empire style

Famously, Philadelphia City Hall has a statue on top of it that gazes over Pennsylvania. Visitors from out of town love to explore City Hall and take photos of the figure while they learn fun historical facts. However, what many people aren’t sure about is who it is that’s depicted at the top and why they were chosen.

The bronze statue that stands on top of Philadelphia City Hall depicts William Penn, founder of the Province of Pennsylvania. This 37-foot tall sculpture was installed in 1894 and has stood as a monument to the city, state, and founder ever since.

For some, discovering that William Penn’s likeness stands on the top of Philadelphia City Hall might raise more questions than answers. Fret not – we have all the information you need. If you want to know more about why William Penn is up there and what his statue is all about, we’ll tell you all the fascinating details below.

William Penn Stands Tall on Philadelphia City Hall

The statue that stands on top of Philadelphia City Hall represents none other than William Penn. As the man who founded the colony of Pennsylvania, Penn was considered important enough to have a permanent structure of his person affixed above the city’s tallest building (until City Hall was dethroned by an even taller building in 1987, but we’ll get to that later.) For all intents and purposes, William Penn’s likeness was used for this statue to commemorate the strides he made in American history and to celebrate his legacy. The sculpture even shows him with the Charter of Pennsylvania in his hand!

William Penn Statue at the top of City Hall

Such an important person at a lofty height couldn’t be given proper justice with a small statue; the creator opted to make his Penn statue a whopping 37 feet tall, weighing in at 53,348 pounds, that’s 26.674 tons! This enormous piece of art is actually the tallest statue to be placed on top of a building anywhere in the world. Walk around Philly for just a few minutes, and you’re sure to see William Penn towering over the city from wherever you are.

Little is known about how much it initially cost to build the Penn statue, but we do know that the upkeep cost isn’t cheap. The city of Philadelphia requires that the sculpture receive a routine cleaning once a decade to maintain the integrity of the art.

The maintenance involves workers setting up scaffolding for a few weeks around the base of the statue and giving the bronze a proper cleaning – they can even get in William Penn’s head for better detailing by climbing through an access that goes through his hat! All this is quite pricey to execute, with an estimated cost of around $278,000 for the most recent cleaning.

It was no simple feat to construct the William Penn statue’s fourteen different sections and combine them into one final piece. It took designer Alexander Milne Calder nearly two whole years to finish building the behemoth, finally completing it in 1892. The statue is so large, however, that it would take another two years after its completion just to get hoisted up to the rooftop of Philadelphia City Hall. Finally, in 1894, the sculpture was officially installed in the place we see it today, for the whole city to gaze upon.

City Hall skyline and clock tower

Reflecting the impacts William Penn made on American history; his statue was built in the U.S. It was even cast specifically in Philly, at the Tacony Iron Works in the Northeastern region of the city. Upon completion, the statue was disassembled, moved over to City Hall, and reconstructed to be hoisted to the top. A true beacon of Philadelphia’s legacy, this statue was built in and stays in Philadelphia.

The original reason that Philadelphia City Hall was the chosen location for Penn’s statue was the sheer height of the building. Standing supreme as the tallest building in the city, City Hall would allow William Penn to stand over Philadelphia as its highest point. This dominance wouldn’t last forever, though, as a taller building by the name of One Liberty Place was finished in 1987. So even though City Hall isn’t the area’s most prominent structure anymore, it’s still a fitting venue to feature Penn.

Keystone Answers Fun Fact: Philadelphia City Hall, located in Center City, was completed in 1901 and is the most elaborate and largest city hall in the U.S. The clock tower houses four clocks, one for each cardinal direction, and the face of each clock is 26 feet in diameter.

Who Created the William Penn Statue on City Hall?

Despite being impressively large and intricately detailed, the Penn statue atop City Hall was created by one single man: Alexander Milne Calder. Calder famously created many sculptures, but his magnum opus is generally considered to be the William Penn statue. However, there is somewhat of a close runner-up: the rest of the sculptures at Philadelphia City Hall!

Columns inside the City Hall Building

City Hall houses much more than the Penn statue; it also has over 250 sculptures inside and outside that depict people, animals, history, events, and various themes. Alexander Milne Calder and a stonemason named William Struthers also created most of these sculptures. The litany of sculptures inside City Hall are beloved by many, giving Calder a reputation as one of America’s great sculptors.

Arches inside the city hall building

What is the William Penn Statue Made Of?

The William Penn statue is entirely composed of bronze. Alexander Milne Calder likely chose this material because of its ability to withstand damage due to time and the elements. The bronze is cleaned only once a decade for routine upkeep, but this has been enough to maintain the statue’s quality and visual appeal.

How Did They Get William Penn on Top of City Hall?

The route to constructing the William Penn statue may have been fraught with difficulty, but getting it on top of City Hall was no walk in the park either.

In order to create a long-lasting, high-quality sculpture that could be moved to its final destination, the creator had to design fourteen distinct sections that could be fitted together and disassembled.

After the statue’s construction was complete, the sections were shipped over to City Hall and lifted to the top piece by piece using a crane and ropes. The head was last to reach the top, finishing the implementation of the Penn statue on top of City Hall.

What Direction is the William Penn Statue Facing in Philadelphia? And Why?

There has been a little controversy surrounding the direction the William Penn statue faces. Calder’s original intention was for the figure to face south so that it would catch as much sunlight as possible throughout the day. He was adamant about this factor due to a desire for the details of his beautiful work to shine even brighter. Unfortunately for Calder, the final product did not turn out to his liking.

Sculptures that adorn the top of City Hall Tower

The statue wound up being implemented to face northeast for historical reasons. Penn is now facing toward Penn Treaty Park, where he signed a peace treaty with the local Lenni Lenape Native American tribe. Upon seeing the direction that his statue was actually installed, Calder felt quite disrespected and chastised those in charge of hoisting the statue.

Was William Penn a Founding Father?

William Penn may have established the colony of Pennsylvania, a significant achievement for the United States, but he is not technically considered a Founding Father.

That moniker is reserved for men like George Washington and John Adams, that helped the colonies find their footing and gain independence from Britain.

Even so, Penn made great strides in American history in addition to founding the great state of Pennsylvania. For example, Penn advocated for peace and the freedom to choose one’s own religion and was also responsible for gaining a peace treaty with the Lenni Lenape Native American tribe local to Pennsylvania.

The Founding Fathers were not the people who founded the American colonies; instead, they were the ones who fought to free those colonies from British rule and established the foundational documents for the U.S. 

Some of the most prominent Founding Fathers include George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, along with dozens who signed the Declaration of Independence. However, William Penn was not a key player in the American Revolution, so he is not considered one of the nation’s Founding Fathers.

Philly is Home to the Statue of Its Very Own William Penn

William Penn made significant progress for America in his day and is now commemorated with his statue on top of Philadelphia City Hall. Next time you’re driving through Philly, take a second to admire the intricate work that went into producing this wonderful sculpture. The piece’s historical significance and sheer beauty are a part of Pennsylvania to this day.

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I was born and raised in Pennsylvania; I love to travel, visit new destinations, explore unique locations, and meet great new people. However, sometimes, you don't need to travel far from home to find new adventures, so I decided now was the time to learn more about this great state I call home.