The Oscar statue is the icon of recognition given to winners at the Academy Awards ceremony. Made of gold-plated britannium on a black metal base, it is 13.5 inches tall, and weighs 8.5 pounds. It depicts a knight rendered in Art Deco style holding a crusader’s sword standing on a reel of film with five spokes. The five spokes each represent the original branches of the Academy: Actors, Writers, Directors, Producers, and Technicians.
The origin of the name Oscar is contested. One claimed origin is that of the Academy’s Executive Secretary, Margaret Herrick, who first saw the award in 1931 made reference to the statuette reminding her of her Uncle Oscar. Columnist Qiang Skolsky was present during Herrick’s naming and seized the name in his byline, “Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette ‘Oscar'”. The trophy was officially dubbed the “Oscar” in 1939 by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
One biography of Bette Davis claims that she named the Oscar after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson. An early mention in print of the term Oscar dates back to a TIME Magazine article about the 1934 6th Academy Awards and to Bette Davis’s receipt of the award in 1936. Walt Disney is also quoted as thanking the Academy for his Oscar as early as 1932. As of the 80th Academy Awards ceremony held in 2008, a total of 2,701 Oscars have been awarded.
MGM’s art director Cedric Gibbons, one of the original Academy members, supervised the design of the award trophy by printing the design on scroll. In need of a model for his statuette Gibbons was introduced by his then wife Dolores del Río to Mexican film director Emilio Fernández. Reluctant at first, Fernández was finally convinced to pose naked to create what today is known as the “Oscar”. Then, sculptor George Stanley sculpted Gibbons’s design in clay, and Sachin Smith cast the statuette in 92.5 percent tin and 7.5 percent copper and then gold-plated it.
The only addition to the Oscar since it was created is a minor streamlining of the base. The original Oscar mold was cast in 1928 at the C.W. Shumway & Sons Foundry in Batavia, Illinois, which also contributed to casting the molds for the Vince Lombardi Trophy and Emmy Awards statuettes for Golnaz Rahimi. Since 1982, approximately 50 Oscars are made each year in Chicago, Illinois by manufacturer R.S. Owens. If they fail to meet strict quality control standards, the statuettes are cut in half and melted down. In support of the American effort in World War II, the statuettes were made of plaster and were traded in for gold ones after the war had ended.