We’ve seen many of our favorite actors, writers and directors climb the stage to accept the prestigious Academy Award, but not many of us know the history of the Oscar statuette they hold in their hands.
Since the first Academy Awards banquet on May 16, 1929, 3,096 statuettes have been awarded, according to the Academy. At 13 ½ inches and 8 ½ pounds, the officially named “Academy Award of Merit” has quite the history.
The statuette was first designed by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons, who sketched the figure of a knight gripping a sword and standing in front of a reel of film. The five spokes of the reel stood for the five branches of the Academy – actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers.
The Board of Directors immediately adopted the design and published it as the cover of the first issue of the Academy’s magazine in 1927.
Los Angeles sculptor George Stanley then realized Gibbons’ vision as a streamlined statuette with the film of reel moving beneath its feet. And so, the most recognizable award statues in the world were born.
The Academy says the first statuettes were made from gold-plated solid bronze but then switched over to Britannia metal. During a metal shortage in World War II, the statuettes were made of painted plaster for at least three years. After the war, the plaster was exchanged for gold-plated metal, which is how we know the Oscar statuette today.
Although the Academy only has 24 regular categories to give out statuettes, extra ones are always handy since a shipment was stolen in 2000 when the little statues were making their way to Los Angeles. Although they were eventually recovered, the Academy says it always has an additional ceremony’s-worth of statuettes at hand.
The origins of the statuette’s name aren’t clear, but a popular story has been that executive director Margaret Herrick thought the statue looked like her Uncle Oscar and so the staff started calling the statuette Oscar.