Tom Edmunds owns a slice of Americana in Manatee County
Let's be honest — her looks were fading from too much sun and she desperately needed a makeover. So her blonde bouffant hairdo was painted black, and her patriotic new bikini perfectly accentuates her fiberglass figure. Throw in the fact she stands 17 feet tall and weighs 300 pounds and now you have a real head-turner.
Her name is "Tootsie," and she can be found in front of Edmunds Metal Works on old 301 in Bradenton. She is a rare "Uniroyal Gal," made by the tire company as a promotional gimmick in the 1950s that never really caught on. The statue Tom Edmunds owns — and named — is one of maybe a dozen in the United States, and all are in obscure small towns.
The "Uniroyal Gals" were created as a companion to the "Muffler Men," which were giant statues that companies like Sinclair and Texaco placed in front of their dealers to attract attention. Most of the female statues were dressed in bikinis and were said originally to be designed in the likeness of Jackie Kennedy.
Edmunds bought his statue from a friend around 2013 and paid $500 for it. He has been offered as much as $10,000 over the years but is not selling. The statue was originally painted all yellow, but about two years ago Edmunds decided a makeover was needed.
Her bikini was striped and painted red, white and blue. A closer look reveals more. She is now wearing an ankle bracelet with four charms that represent each branch of the Armed Forces. The logos are painted on the tiny charms. In her right hand she is clinging to a military dog tag as well.
And at the foot of the statue is a slogan: "Patriotism means standing up for being an American."
"She is making a statement all right," he says.
The slogan — in today's climate — could be interpreted as divisive, considering the statue stands in an industrial area where there are a large number of Hispanic businesses.
Instead, it appears to be a statement being made by a man in his 70s who no longer recognizes his country, wonders what happened to American-made products, honors the military and wishes it were the 1950s again so he could drag race hot rods.
"The world has changed dramatically out there," Edmunds says.
Edmunds was raised in a steel town in Ohio and served in the Air Force — "I grew up in the best era of all time," he says. "The 1950s."
His sheet metal fabricating company has been in Bradenton for 46 years. A while back he sold it to his kids so he could concentrate more on his passion — building hot rods. It disappoints him that there aren't many businesses like his left.
"This shop is the last of the Mohicans," he says. "It's all about being American-made. We've grown into a throwaway society. No one wants to pay for quality any more. They go to China first."
But even Uniroyal — the company that produced the statue Edmunds owns — no longer exists as an American company. It was founded in 1892 and was even one of the original stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. By 1990 it had been sold to Michelin — a French company.
One of the few relics left is the statue. And the statement Edmunds is making with it. If you are going to stand for something, he figures, you might as well stand tall.
Email Chris Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.