The sculpture is in the Art Deco style, as is the entire Rockefeller Center. Atlas in the sculpture is 15 feet tall, while the entire statue is 45 feet tall, as high as a four-story building. It weighs seven tons, and is the largest sculpture at Rockefeller Center. The North-South axis of the armillary sphere on his shoulders points towards the North Star as seen from New York City.
When Atlas was unveiled in 1937, some people protested, claiming that it looked like Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Later, painter James Montgomery Flagg said that Atlas "looks too much as Mussolini thinks he looks".
The piece has since been associated with Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged (1957) and is often used as a symbol of the Objectivist movement, although the statue predates publication of the book by two decades.