Man Controlling Trade
A muscular Art Deco monument represents the struggle between regulators and unbridled markets.
The wedge shaped Federal Trade Commission building in the Federal Triangle is flanked by a pair of iconic Art Deco figures, the only equestrian statues in Washington to feature uncooperative steeds. The similar but not identical pair are collectively known as Man Controlling Trade, and represents the New Deal-era struggle with consumer protection.
Man Controlling Trade was financed by the Treasury Department Section on Fine Arts, a largely forgotten benefactor of 1,400 murals and sculptures that is frequently confused with the Works Progress Administration. A design competition in 1938 awarded 29-year-old sculptor Michael Lantz $45,600 to complete the project, a life changing sum for the struggling artist who previously earned a $94 a month at his government relief job.
Lantz spent four years on the sculptures and unveiled his finished creations in May, 1942 to critical acclaim. Federal Trade Commission biographer Marc McClure wrote that “the horse, representing big business, with its dynamic energy suggests that it could easily go on a rampage and leave a path of destruction behind it, oblivious to its own actions. The muscular man stripped to the waist standing beside the horse and gripping its reins symbolizes the federal government, which through intelligence and restraint forces the horse to submit its power to a useful purpose.”
The allegorical depiction of a wonky federal regulator as a chiseled shirtless hunk is a bit of a stretch today, but it stands as a memorial to the New Deal aspirations for an assertive and protective federal government. That’s the intention anyway—some contemporary residents think it looks like “a guy torturing a horse.”
Know Before You Go
The statue on the north side of the building features a slightly meaner looking horse, which seems to be biting the mans hand. In the southern statue the man seems to have greater control over the beast.
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