The Quirky Story Behind This Famous Oregon Landmark Will Fascinate You
If you’ve lived in Oregon very long, you certainly recognize Oregon Pioneer a.k.a. “Gold Man,” who stands on top of the state capitol building in Salem. This guy has quite a story:
Our current state capitol building is the third to house Oregon's state government.
The first, built in 1855, burned just 11 days after its completion. The second was completed in 1876, but it too burned down in 1935. The current capitol building was completed in 1938.
The crown jewel of the building was Oregon Pioneer (known amongst locals as "Gold Man"). He was created by artist Ulric H. Ellerhusen.
The 23-foot-tall, 8.5-ton sculpture was built in New Jersey, transported to Oregon, and placed on its marble pedestal, but only after considerable effort.
The statue arrived in Oregon via the Panama Canal, was then transported by train to Salem, then by truck to the capitol building. As workers prepared to hoist it into position, they realized that they lacked equipment for the job, and installation was delayed for several days until heavier machinery could be brought to the site.
Oregon Pioneer was not immediately loved by all.
Critics lambasted his appearance, complaining that he was not manly enough to represent the rugged Beaver State. They made fun of his puny ax and skimpy blanket.
The artist quickly explained the meaning behind his creation.
Oregon Pioneer was not meant to be a woodsman, he explained. His small ax was the type used to build a home, and the canvas tarp over his shoulder came from his covered wagon or tent. Oregon Pioneer's purpose was meant to portray the hardy settler who journeyed to Oregon from afar to make himself a home in this beautiful place.
With his wavy locks and carefully trimmed facial hair, Oregon Pioneer's appearance isn't much different than that of a modern-day Oregonian, and for an 80-year-old guy, he's looking pretty spry.
His gold leaf has been refinished several times. In 1984, when the funding for the re-gilding failed to pass in the legislature, Oregon's schoolchildren all across the state held a penny drive, raising $37,000 for his facelift. His latest renovation occurred in 2000.
Oregon Pioneer recently celebrated his 80-year-old birthday in September, 2018. A birthday party was thrown for him at the Capitol, complete with cupcakes.
Pioneer Man continues to stand tall and proud atop the capitol, and we can't imagine Oregon without him.
During summer months, you can ascend the 121 steps to the observation deck to see Pioneer Man up close. Tower tours are offered at the capitol from June through September on weekday at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2 p.m..
Learn more about Pioneer Man and the history of Oregon’s state capitol building on the Oregon State Legislature’s
If you’d like to catch a glimpse of what life was like for Oregonians back in the 1800s, you might want to visit the
Pete French Round Barn.
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