83. Donahue Monument, San Francisco, California - 1905

Irish immigrant and forty-niner, Peter Donahue, grew his small blacksmith shop into a giant foundry and ship building enterprise, the Union Iron Works.

An industrious man, he also established the first gas company for street lighting and began the first street car line.

Some years after his death in 1885, his proud son, James Donahue, commissioned Bay Area sculptor Douglas Tilden to create a monument dedicated to his father. Rather than a full sized statue or bust of the elder Donahue, Tilden chose to honor the hard manual labor that characterized not only the man but also the 19th century. The bronze memorial at Bush and Market Streets was installed in 1899 and depicts 5 muscular men struggling to punch a hole through a metal plate with a punch press.

Some citizens were scandalized by the scantily clad workmen and demanded that Tilden dress them with trousers. He declined.

On the front of the press you will find two medallions with portraits of Peter and James Donahue. Under the elder’s portrait Tilden inscribed the words “Labor Omnia Vincit” (Work Conquers All). The bottom of the sculpture is embellished with examples of various forms of mechanics work such as a block pulley, an anvil, and a ship’s screw.

Deaf and mute from the age of four, Tilden discovered his talent for sculpture in his early twenties and after a formal education in Paris, returned to the Bay Area and to several commissions, including the Admission Day (or Native Sons) Monument (1897), currently at the corners of Market, Post and Montgomery Streets. Unfortunately as Tilden aged, his income declined along with his commissions and he died in poverty.

References:
Historic Walks in San Francisco: 18 Trails Through the City's Past
Splendid survivors: San Francisco's downtown architectural heritage (A California living book)

Publisher: 
Location
Donahue Labor Statue
Market St & Battery St
San Francisco, CA 94199