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Seattle, Washington

Hammering Man

This working class sculpture pounds his hammer all the livelong day. 

In front of the Seattle Art Museum, a towering, industrial piece of moving kinetic art slowly pounds his hammer up and down. Stretching 48 feet in the air and weighing in at 26,000 pounds, Hammering Man labors for 20 hours a day, using the tremendous might of his metallic left arm to amuse and entertain all visitors to the museum.

Designed by sculptor Jonathan Borofsky, Seattle’s Hammering Man sculpture was built to honor the working class men and women of the world. In the words of Borofsky, “he or she is the village craftsman, the South African coal miner, the computer operator, the farmer or the aerospace worker—the people who produce the commodities on which we depend.”

And what a strong, sturdy monument it is. Unlike Superman, Hammering Man is a literal “Man of Steel,” made of stainless steel and aluminum and pounding his hammer four times every minute through the use of an electric motor lodged inside its thin body. The Hammering Man labors around the clock throughout the day except for from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. and of course, on Labor Day.

Ironically, the hours of labor to construct Seattle’s Hammering Man in 1991 were ultimately fruitless. On September 28, 1991, a lift-strap supporting the sculpture snapped, demolishing the worker’s progress and delaying the sculpture’s completion by a full year. But the Hammering Man has been successfully operating every since 1992, racking up a total of over 42 million hammer hits.

In addition to hard work, Hammering Man has also inspired political statements. To protest President Bill Clinton, a local artist attached a ball and chain to the Hammering Man on Labor Day of 1993, claiming, “supposedly ‘Hammering Man’ represents the workers, but the workers are getting hammered.”

Hammering Man is a worldwide phenomenon. Outside of Seattle, there are other Hammering Men spread across the globe, including Los Angeles, New York, Seoul, South Korea, and two Hammering Men in Frankfurt, Germany.