Tyler Davidson fountain
Public Art: Tyler Davidson fountain
Also known as: The Genius of Water
Sculptors: © August von Kreling (23rd May, 1819 -
23rd April, 1876) , Ferdinand von Miller (18th October, 1813 — 11th February, 1887) , Ferdinand Freiherr von Miller
(1842–1929) son and Fritz von Miller (son).
Description: This fountain is one of
Cincinnati's best known and loved icons. The 43ft (13m) Genius of Water fountain, which was erected in honor of
Cincinnati businessman Tyler Davidson, is cast in bronze. Atop the fountain stands a 9ft (2,7m) bronze woman "The
Genius" with her arms outstretched . The water streams down her arms before cascading down into the central basin.
This was designed by August von Kreling. The four outer sculptures, which are also double as drinking fountains,
feature boys riding animals and they were designed by Ferdinand von Miller, the youngest son . The
seated figures at the base of the fountain were designed by Fritz von Miller, the other son. The massive granite
stones are from Bavaria.
Date Unveiled: The fountain was dedicated on
October 6, 1871. Over 20,000 turned out for the event. The sculptor, Ferdinand von Miller (the younger), was also
Cast: The fountain was cast at the Royal Foundry
in Munich, which was founded by King Ludwig I of Bavaria in 1824, and was later owned by Ferdinand von Miller
in 1844. It took three years to cast the fountain.
Location: Not only has the fountain
faced every which way except north, it has been moved several times. The Genius of Water can be found at Fountain
Square (also a gift to the city from Henry Probasco) in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Acknowledgements: A special thank
you to Bearman Cartoons for kindly providing the photograph.
History of the Genius of Water fountain:
In 1860 hardware business partners and brothers-in-law Tyler Davidson and Henry Probasco
discussed the idea of dedicating a fountain to the people of Cincinnati. Having made a fortune from their
business they wanted of give something back to the community.
Unfortunately, Tyler Davidson died in 1865 before their dream was realised.
When Henry sold the hardware business he decided to continue pursuing the fountain idea. Henry headed to Europe in
search of the perfect fountain. He had specific ideas about what he wanted. Firstly it had to be practical so
people could drink from it and secondly he wanted no conventional design e.g mythological symbols and
especially no Neptune.
Eventually he was introduced to Ferdinand von Miller of the Royal Foundry of
Bavaria. Miller showed Henry a rejected fountain design by himself and August von Kreling, which depicted
figures of everyday people enjoying water in different ways.
Henry loved it and placed an order. It took three years to cast and complete. When finished the
fountain was packed into crates and sent to America on the steamship "Westphalia." Along with the precious cargo
was Ferdinand's youngest son, Ferdinand Jr, who was sent to supervise the assembling.
Not Everyone Loved The Fountain: When Ferdinand
von Miller and artist August von Kreling collaborated on designing a grand fountain they were very excited about
their radical concept. Ferdinand had included his "Genius" statue with outstretch arms, while August had
removed all mythological elements and replaced them with human figures.
Keen to begin, the two used the upcoming German Industrial Exposition as an excuse to start
planning their fountain. Ferdinand decided to give King Ludwig a sneak peak of the design , which, in
hindsight was a fatal mistake. He hated it. In fact, he called it an "abomination in the arts". After the dust had
settled Ferdinand decided to approach the king again, in hope he had warmed to the idea. No such luck, he hated it
even more. So Ferdinand and August quietly shelved the project. That was until Henry Probasco appeared.
Stone Controversy : Many locals in Cincinnati,
especially the men working on the project, were not happy that the granite base stones for the fountain were
imported from Germany, when America could have easily have supplied the same stones of equal quality. They were
even less impressed with the fact a Bavarian was supervising the installation.
Rope Controversy: When Ferdinand arrived in
Cincinnati the first thing he noticed were the ropes provided by the locals to hoist the heavy crates were way too
thin to handle the weight. When he mentioned this, he was met with stubborn refusal to change the ropes. In
desperation Ferdinand suggested they hang one of the heaviest crates by the ropes overnight just to be on the safe
side. Needless to say, the next day the ropes had been mysteriously changed to thicker ones and not another word
was said about the subject.
Water Controversy: When it was time for Ferdinand to
test the water pressure for the fountain, he opened the valve on the main pipe and no water came out
of the upper statue's hands. A disaster in the making. Fortunately there was another water source (city
reservoir) which could provide enough force for the water to rise the 40ft needed to reach the hands. Problem?
The pipes only ran a small distance down Vine Street. The city council ordered an immediate extension of the pipes
so that they could reach the fountain. Men worked day and night digging up the street to lay the new pipes. After a
few plumbing alterations, the Genius flowed into life.
Trivia: It is estimated that 500 gallons of water
flow through the fountain every minute.
The fountain featured in the opening credits of the television series WKRP in Cincinnati.
The fountain was renovated for the first time in 1970 for a celebration of its centennial.
The inspiration for the woman at the top of the fountain came from Ferdinand von Miller. When he
was a young man Ferdinand had bought a medallion from a shop near a church in France which had an image of the
Virgin Mary on it. He was intrigued by the way the designer had depicted Mary, with arms outstretched and shafts of
light emanating from her palms. He later used a similar concept for his fountain but replaced the shafts of light
The bronze used for the fountain came from old cannon purchased from the Danish government.
The Tyler Davidson fountain is made of approximately 24 tons of bronze and 85 tons of granite.
In 1867 a bronze model of the fountain was given to Henry Probasco by Ferdinand von Miller and for
many years it stood outside Henry's home. It now resides in the Cincinnati Museum of Art.
When the fountain was transported to America, several pieces were too large fit in the hold of the
steamship so they were chained to the deck.
When the ship arrived in New York on September 6, 1871, the ship, the fountain and the passengers
were quarantined for two days, thanks to a breakout of cholera during the voyage which had resulted in the death of