March 16, 2018

“The Symbol of Progress”

Symbol of Progress

The first thing most visitors to the main branch of the Bethlehem Area Public Library notice is the sculpture in the middle of the plaza. It’s not hard to see why–it’s huge! Sixty feet high to be exact. But what is it? What does it mean? Is it a stalk of celery? A giant bar-b-que fork? Not quite.

The massive sculpture was built in 1967, the same time the Library, City Hall, and the rest of City Center plaza were constructed. The artist was sculptor Joseph J. Greenberg. Greenberg was known for his sculptures at the Philadelphia Zoo and other well-known public works. Despite having pieces in many prominent places, his obituary in The New York Times noted that he always counted the steel sculpture outside BAPL as among his favorites. The name of the piece is the “Symbol of Progress.” It represents, as a 1967 article from the Bethlehem Globe said, “…the fusion and integration of the nationalities comprising our citizenry.” The cost at the time was $50,000. It weighs over 11,000 pounds and when being installed it had to be brought in by helicopter due to its massive weight and size.

A drawing of the sculpture has been used as part of BAPL’s logo over the years and so has appeared on all sorts of library items including t-shirts, stationery, signs, tote bags, and more. Visitors love to take pictures of it, especially at Christmas time when it is joined in the plaza by a giant Christmas tree. Sometimes people do yoga under it. We know of at least one couple who got married beneath it!

Whatever you call it, the sculpture reflects what it means to be a true member of the Bethlehem, PA community: an individual dedicated to ingenuity and progress. See below for some historical images of the sculpture being installed, as well as a snapshot of Joseph Greenburg at the dedication in 1967.

Photos courtesy of the Luckenbach Family Scrapbook:[/vc_column_text]

Local History