At Willard Park in downtown Cleveland, travelers can see the World’s Largest Rubber Stamp. Known as the “Free Stamp” to Clevelanders, this fun piece of pop-art is a great stop for a photo-op near the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Lake Erie Pier.
The Free Stamp was commissioned in 1985 by Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio) to brighten up the concrete edifice of their corporate headquarters downtown. Sohio enlisted sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen to design the 28-foot-high, 49-foot-wide red stamp with the word “free” printed on the bottom. Sohio chose the word “free” to complement the sentiment of the adjacent Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument of Cleveland, which honors soldiers from the Civil War and freedom from slavery.
Before the sculpture was installed, Sohio was bought out by British Petroleum (BP), whose CEO, Robert Horton, banned the stamp from the property, claiming that the work was done in poor taste and that the word “free” was intended to mock BP for their theft of Sohio’s corporate freedom. Though Horton’s accusations were unsupported, the stamp was sent to a warehouse for storage where it sat for seven years.
In 1991, BP offered the stamp to the city of Cleveland, but the city politely declined the offer, stating that they couldn’t afford to maintain the structure. When BP offered to cover the costs and install the piece for free, the city agreed and BP began working with the sculptor to find an agreeable site. Today, the Free Stamp is aimed diagonally, pointing towards BP’s headquarters in Public Square and leading viewers to its original site. Ironically, the Free Stamp is anything but free, costing BP $96,000 in 2014 for maintenance and refurbishing. Nevertheless, Clevelanders appreciate BP’s investment in public art and the stamp has become a popular destination for travelers looking to cross off another roadside attraction.