Here in the Capital Region of New York State, most of us are familiar with the enormous dog that sits atop 991 Broadway. It’s just as iconic as the Egg and the Capitol Building. But something that not everyone knows is why our favorite furry friend exists and how he got here.
In 1899, English painter, Francis Barraud, captured the image of Nipper, his brother’s dog, as he listened thoughtfully to an Edison-Bell cylinder phonograph. This painting known as “His Master’s Voice” was purchased by Berliner Gramophone in the United States in 19001.
In comes RCA (Radio Corporation of America), a company that was highly involved in technology projects in the early 1900s like high-powered alternators for transatlantic transmissions and the American Navy. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, the tech giant eventually acquired the Victor Talking Machine Company (and the rights to Nipper) and became the largest manufacturer of phonographs and records in the world. RCA began using Nipper as their mascot and his image became synonymous with value and superiority internationally2.
So, how did he end up in Albany?
A common misconception is that 991 Broadway was an RCA headquarter similar to the General Electric building in Schenectady. The reality is that in 1958, RTA, an appliance distributer specializing in RCA electrical products, moved into the building after a recent refurbishment. To call attention to the connection with RCA, RTA wanted something easily identifiable on display to attract new customers. The Nipper structure, built in Chicago, was delivered to Albany in multiple pieces and assembled atop the building by crane3.
While RTA no longer inhabits 991 Broadway and the building has since switched hands more than once, the 28-foot-high, fiberglass Nipper still sits patiently on the roof. The beloved dog has worked his way into our state capital’s heart. In 2014, many worried that we might have to say goodbye to this adored mascot, as the warehouse district building was put up for sale once again. However in 2015, a survey conducted by The Albany Institute of History and Art in conjunction with the Times Union revealed that Nipper is top of mind amongst local residents in terms of what they identify with the region4.
The “Downtown is Pawsome” art installation has been brightening the streets of Albany since 2017. This outdoor project includes several mini-sculptures of Nipper uniquely painted by different local artists. While the exhibit has technically wrapped for now, many of these sculptures are still around for spectators to appreciate. And don’t fret - the developer who currently owns the “Nipper Building” stated in early 2021 that he doesn’t see the Nipper statue being removed any time soon and that doing so would also be removing a huge piece of Albany’s history.
Emily Gnacik is the Editor of AAA Every Day Magazine.