In the early 1990s, members of the Oz Park Advisory Council began raising funds to commission the Tin Man. Sculpted by John Kearney, the artwork was installed in 1995. This proved to be the first of four scuptures that would celebrate the Oz theme in the park. The Tin Man is one of the beloved characters from the novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum (1856–1919) in 1900 when he lived in Chicago. The story was immortalized by the MGM movie The Wizard of Oz in 1939.
The advisory council received a large donation from the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce. The group raised additional funds by selling pavers inscribed with the names of donors. The advisory council later continued the campaign and a small “Yellow Brick Road” surrounds each of the artworks.
For years, Kearney had been well-known for producing sculptures out of automobile bumpers. At the time that he created the Tin Man, he knew that the shiny silver figure would be one of his last artworks made of that material because of the increasing difficulty of finding chrome bumpers. Indeed, it is the only chrome sculpture in the park. Kearney's later three artworks are made of cast bronze.
Kearney based the Tin Man's face on that of Jack Haley, the actor who played the character in the acclaimed film. As Kearney finished the nine-foot-tall 900-pound sculpture in his Massachusetts summer studio, the artist was visited by a man and his young daughter. The little girl stared and then whispered something to her father. Kearney asked what she had said, and the man replied that his daughter wanted to know why he hadn’t given the Tin Man a heart. The sculptor decided that she was right—that he had forgotten the most important part. Kearney went right to work the following day and made a heart for the Tin Man sculpture.