In the small town of Concord, Massachusetts, there stands one of the greatest icons of American art, dedicated one hundred years to the day after the Revolutionary War battle it commemorated. In 1872, a committee of citizens awarded a commission to create a monument commemorating the battle at the North Bridge to promising local sculptor Dan French (who was only 22 years old at the time). French, who had never executed a full-sized figure, jumped at the opportunity and agreed to do the job for his expenses only. For a studio, French rented a long, narrow room in Boston, poorly lit by a single small window.
Working in his makeshift studio, French modeled the seven-foot-high figure over the winter of 1873-74. For inspiration, he would walk a few blocks to the Boston Athenaeum to study the plaster casts of classical statuary, in particular the Apollo Belvedere, whose heroic pose influenced the stance of The Minute Man. Several young men served as live models. Concord’s Monument Committee approved his clay model, which was then cast in plaster. The artist sent the statue to the Ames Foundry in Chicopee, Massachusetts, to be cast in bronze that had been melted down from Civil War cannons.
On April 19, 1875, The Minute Man was unveiled in front of a large crowd that included such notable guests as President Grant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson. A decade had elapsed since the Civil War, and the nation’s mood was optimistic as it approached the centennial of the Declaration of Independence. When the flags draping the sculpture were pulled away, the crowd saw a farmer-soldier inspired by the art of antiquity and imbued with the energy of a new country. The young sculptor was not present; he had already set off to study in Europe for his “Grand Tour.”