Lawn Jockey History – 1776-1913
We get many questions regarding the origins and rich history of the great American Lawn Jockey statue. Many are surprised to learn that the Lawn Jockey is actually an evolution of 3 related statues and was used primarily as a horse hitching post in the 1800’s. The Lawn Jockey makes history come alive with legends of tours of duty in the revolutionary war and civil war. Like a time machine, the cultural significance of this unique sculpture has touched many areas of society in important ways and is still evolving hundreds of years after the statue first appeared.
In this section we will discuss the origins of the 3 versions of the great American Lawn Jockey sculpture in the specific time frame of 1776-1913. There are 2 distinct historical time frames associated with this statue:
- 1776-1913: Original versions manufactured of SOLID iron or zinc and weighing approximately 300-400 lbs. designed for FUNCTIONAL use(tying up horses).
- 1913-present: Reproductions of the statue manufactured of HOLLOW iron(about 150 lbs.), concrete, plastic, or aluminum designed for DECORATIVE use.
This 1911 photo shows two solid cast iron jockeys used as hitching posts at the curb of a cobblestone street in Charleston, SC. The man is sitting on the stepping stone used for getting in and out of horse drawn carriages stopping by.
Above is a page from JW Fiske’s 1910 catalog. Note that there were other jockey versions other than the 3 main versions. Fiske’s “Chinaman” version can be seen in the Charleston, SC photo above(the jockey on the left). There were hundreds of iron foundrys making jockeys in the 19th century but the 3 biggest manufacturers that had catalogs and marked their products were JW Fiske and JL Mott of New York City, and Robert Wood and Company of Philadelphia. The makers mark was usually stamped on the top of the base as shown below.
The “big 3” manufacturers all made the 2 jockey versions as shown below in the 1902 JL Mott catalog. The “caricature” jockey version was not cataloged or manufactured by the “big 3”.
Jockeys were mainly used for residential applications in the 1800’s, but also were used for trades as well. Although they eventually were most closely associated with motels and restaurants as a symbol of “welcome” in the 1900’s, their main location/purpose in the 1800’s were to identify tobacco shop storefronts. Historical documents from manufacturers show zinc statues were made for the trade/tobacco shop applications, while iron statues were made for residences.
Hospitality – Horse Racing – History
“Welcome home”, “horse racing”, and “history” are the 3 primary themes of all lawn jockey statues, reflecting charming memories of a bygone era. Many other themes are represented in this uniquely American statue, some of which are described here and on other pages on this website: patriotism, George Washington, the American revolution, slave participation in the revolutionary war, Greek influences in American art and architecture, the Statue of Liberty, Christmas, the Underground Railroad, Black Americana, ironwork and the industrial revolution, 19th century American iron toys, forgotten black jockeys of the 1800’s, the Kentucky Derby, southern hospitality, the American centennial, and the American Red Cross.
Imagine traveling back in time to 1872… clip-clopping along the cobblestone road and slowly passing by the gas lights, and then stopping off your horse drawn carriage at the Composite Iron Works, 9 Mercer St., New York City… to pick out a hitching post!
History of the Lawn Jockey 1776-1913 is still a work in progress- if you have any documents, images, or other information referring to these statues during this time period, especially prior to 1860, please contact us.
Documented history on the Lawn Jockey is solid back to the 1850’s, but prior history is based on putting pieces of a puzzle together through eyewitness accounts, legend, and speculation. The trail of puzzle pieces traces the history of the Lawn Jockey back through the civil war in the 1860’s to the Underground Railroad in the 1850’s, and all the way back to George Washington in 1776. But to truly understand the origins of the Lawn Jockey statue, you must first turn the time machine clock back further still, way back to 500 bc in ancient Greece where the public display of the human form in sculpture was perfected.
In 500 BC, the ancient Greek sculptors perfected statues of the human form… clothing on sculpture is used to convey social structure. The jockey’s timeless design was borrowed from ancient Greece and reinvented in colonial America.
A Greek god on the lawn?
- Above left: Possibly the original jockey design- “Idolino”(500bc) by the famous Greek sculptor Polycleitos.
- Above center: Statue of the Greek god “Apollo”(460bc) riding a chariot that duplicated the Idolino design.
- Above right: Another Greek statue of Apollo(400bc) holding horses reins while riding a chariot.
Apollo was the Greek god of light and the sun, and his hand is outstretched to hold the reins of his horses to guide his golden chariot as it “rides across the sky” during the day, illuminating the earth.
Many copies of this popular design were made all the way through the end of the Roman Empire in 476ad. Note how all had bare feet and had their right arm extended to hold horses reins just like the original jockeys.
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