What's an Oscar Statuette Made of and Who Named it Oscar?

Where did the name "Oscar" come from?

Oscar Statues Manufactured at the R.S.Owens factory in Chicago
A hot Oscar statue that's just been cast is held by Martin Bega, who casts all the Oscars. Each Oscar is hand cast, polished, numbered and gold-plated at the R.S. Owens factory in Chicago. Photo by David Howells/Corbis via Getty Images

Oscar History and Manufacture

The official word from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is that the Oscar statuette is made of Britannia metal, a pewter-like alloy which is plated in copper, nickel silver, and 24-karat gold, stands 13 1/2" tall, and weighs 8 1/2 pounds. This has been the standard for the Academy Award since the mid-1940s. For the first few years, Oscar statues were created of gold-plated solid bronze, though during World War II Oscar winners received painted plaster statues because of metal rationing (winners during those years were able to "trade in" their plaster Oscars for the real awards after World War II).

The first Academy Award of Merit was awarded on May 16, 1929. The Oscar statuette was designed by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons and sculpted by George Stanley. The Art Deco figure of a knight standing on a reel of film, hands gripping a sword, hasn't changed since its initial design, other than a small increase in the size of the base.The base of the statuette is metal and features a film reel with five spokes. These spokes represent the five original branches of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences: actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers.

The Oscar statues are manufactured by R.S. Owens & Company, a Chicago company which has been creating the award since 1982. R.S. Owens routinely repairs damaged Oscars, and even once received one that had been "partially melted." Because it isn't known exactly how many Oscars will be needed for a particular ceremony because of multiple winners in some categories, about 50 statues are made each year.

Any remaining Oscars are retained by the Academy to use the following year. Each Oscar is produced with a blank nameplate in order to avoid spoiling the names of the winners. Since 2010, R.S. Owens has made nameplates for every potential winner to be affixed on the statues of the winners at the the Governor's Ball, the official after-party of the Oscars, with the non-winners nameplates being recycled.

Who Named it Oscar?

The official name of the Oscar award is the Academy Award of Merit. The most popular story of how the Academy Award of Merit came to be known as the Oscar is that Academy librarian - and eventual executive director - Margaret Herrick believed it looked a lot like her Uncle Oscar. After she made that observation, the Academy staff began calling the award "Oscar."

However, that name origin is in dispute. Hollywood gossip columnist (and later film producer) Sidney Skolsky claimed that he bestowed the "Oscar" name on the Academy Award. Skolsky is credited for the first recorded use of the term in a 1934 column in the New York Daily News. In the column about that year's ceremony, he wrote "Although Katharine Hepburn wasn’t present to receive her Oscar...," which he claimed was a reference to an old vaudeville joke. The Academy claims that Walt Disney used the "Oscar" term during the 1934 ceremony when accepting his award for Best Animated Short Film for The Three Little Pigs, which would prove that the name was already in use before Skolsky's column.

Furthermore, legendary actress Bette Davis also claimed she coined the term after naming her Academy Award after her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson.

Regardless of how the Oscars got their names, the Academy officially adopted the nickname in 1939. Actors and filmmakers have been hoping to hear their name announced after "The Oscar goes to..." ever since.

Edited by Christopher McKittrick