World's Largest Rubber Stamp
Cleveland's giant "free" stamp is a nod to the Civil War, but was misinterpreted for years.
In 1985, major oil company Standard Oil of Ohio, aka “Sohio,” opened up the 45-floor Sohio Building in downtown Cleveland. At the height of 659 feet, the mundane corporate headquarters needed some color and distinctiveness to brighten it up, and Sohio CEO Alton Whitehouse had just the plan.
Whitehouse commissioned husband and wife sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen to design the world’s largest rubber stamp. The pair worked together for weeks to create a giant, 49-foot red stamp with the word “free” printed on the bottom.
The word “free” was chosen because the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument of Cleveland was located directly across the street from the Sohio Building, which honors soldiers from the Civil War and freedom from slavery.
Unfortunately for the sculptors, a short time after the stamp sculpture was commissioned, Sohio was taken over by British Petroleum (BP). Robert Horton, the CEO of BP, refused to give the project his stamp of approval. Horton apparently thought that the word “free” on the stamp was intended to mock and humiliate BP for taking away the “corporate freedom” of Sohio. Even though this accusation was unsupported and incorrect, Horton’s decision permanently banned the giant stamp from the property.
The giant stamp was held in a warehouse in Indiana for the next six years until 1991, when the stamp was finally released to the public. The heavy object was hauled into Cleveland’s Willard Park, just a few blocks away from its original proposed location. To this day, the “Free Stamp” in Cleveland has held onto the title of “World’s Largest Stamp” and has won the approval of the city’s park-goers.
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