AKRON—The unveiling was finished, the mayor's speech done and as the crowd began to disperse on Thursday morning, a 68-year-old former milkman took out his phone, looked up at the city's newest downtown resident and snapped a photo.
Alan Cottrill knows him well. He sculpted him.
"I'm very happy to honor the common man and woman," said Cottrill, whose 12-foot tall bronze Rubber Worker statue was dedicated at a ceremony at a newly-built roundabout at the intersection of Main and Mill Streets. "The people time has forgotten. The people that played such an important part in contributing to the growth and success of this city and the whole region of the state."
Sculptor Alan Cottrill takes a picture of his statue after the unveiling in downtown Akron.
Cottrill, who owns a studio about two hours away in Zanesville, Ohio, grew up in a blue collar family. His father was a milkman—he was too, when he was younger—and his mother was a homemaker. Cottrill was the first in his family to graduate high school.
He never worked in the rubber industry, but he identifies with those who did.
"Every chance I get to honor the common man," he said, "I really enjoy that."
Cottrill actually finished the statue last May and it was supposed to be unveiled late last summer, but the global pandemic postponed those plans. May 13's brief ceremony took place on a cloudless day in front of a crowd of more than 100 people, including Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan.
"A lot has changed in the last two years (downtown), but one thing has not changed—Akron's deep and meaningful connection to the rubber industry," said Horrigan, whose father, father-in-law, aunt and great aunt all worked for Akron's tire companies. "Once the official 'Rubber Capital of the World'—and I say it still is—Akron is the global headquarters of Goodyear and (a corporate home to) Bridgestone and other tire industry companies.
"More importantly, Akron is still home to thousands of rubber workers and their families. Akron's tire companies grew and prospered on the labor of thousands of rubber workers that flocked to the city to better their lives. … This statue is a testament to them and to every single worker who participated in the industry. Their dedication will never be forgotten and will be forever honored in the very new center of Akron's downtown."
A silhouette of the rubber worker statue shines through the sheet before its unveiling in downtown Akron.
The statue features a rubber worker from the early 20th century hand-wrapping a tire. It was based on a photo from the cover of the 1999 book "Wheels of Fortune" by David Giffels and Steve Love.
The statue stands on top of a tiered granite base in the shapes of Summit County and the city of Akron. It soon will feature plaques describing the contributions of women and African Americans to Akron's rubber industry. The statue complements an Ohio historical marker at the site of the Portage Hotel on North Main Street that recognizes the United Rubber Workers International Union, which was organized in 1935 before merging with the United Steelworkers in 1995. The URW plaque features commemorative bricks purchased by former union members, as will the new statue. Statue bricks are $100 each, which includes engraving of up to 60 characters (three lines, 20 characters each). They can be purchased at AkronStories.com through June 18.
The Akron Stories project was founded by Miriam Ray, a local resident who began advocating for the statue in 2016.
"She brought this project to a reality," Horrigan said of Ray. "I always say good ideas are easy to get behind. This was a great idea."