History of the Statue of Liberty (1860s-Today)

Last updated: September 5, 2023

The Statue of Liberty was originally known as Liberty Enlightening the World, and France gave it to the United States to celebrate their alliance during the Revolutionary War. A sculptor named Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi designed the statue, and Gustave Eiffel (the man who designed the Eiffel Tower) was responsible for the iron framework underneath the copper plating.

The Birth and Conceptualization of Lady Liberty

The idea for the Statue of Liberty was born in the 1860s when French politician Édouard René de Laboulaye suggested creating a monument to celebrate America's progress and the lasting friendship between France and the United States. This vision inspired sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi who began designing the statue as a symbol of freedom and democracy, hoping to inspire similar ideals in France.

Funding and Constructing the Monument

Funding and support from France and the United States were necessary to bring the Statue of Liberty to life. The French were responsible for the statue itself, while the Americans were to provide the pedestal on which it would stand.

Construction began in 1875 and was not completed until 1884. Crews worked round the clock, seven days a week, for nine years to finish the Statue of Liberty. When it was completed in 1885, the statue was disassembled into 350 pieces, shipped to New York City, and reassembled. It took four months just to put the Statue of Liberty together again!

How much did the Statue of Liberty cost to build?

A collection was taken up in France to fund the statue, raising 2,250,000 francs ($250,000 U.S. dollars). It doesn’t look like much, but $250,000 in the 19th century would be the same as millions of dollars today. The U.S. and France participated in fundraising activities, and raising enough money to finish construction took a long time.

The Role of France and the United States

Fundraising efforts took place on both sides of the Atlantic, with the French hosting various events such as lotteries, concerts, and art exhibitions. In the United States, newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer spearheaded a campaign encouraging Americans to donate to construct the pedestal. His efforts were successful, and the necessary funds were eventually raised.

Engineering and Design of the Statue

Bartholdi collaborated with engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the mastermind behind the Eiffel Tower, to create the statue's iron framework. Lady Liberty's copper skin, about 3⁄32 inch thick, was hand-hammered into plates and attached to the interior iron frame.

Statue of Liberty Torch

The statue was built in Paris and shipped to the U.S. in 1885. Various parts of the statue were displayed throughout Paris as they were completed. Miss Liberty’s head was exhibited in the gardens at the Tracadéro, and her torch was also on display, as you can observe in the images on this page.

Assembly and Dedication of the Statue

Upon arrival in New York Harbor in June 1885, the disassembled statue was transported to Bedloe's Island, its final destination. Over 300 individual copper pieces and the iron framework had to be carefully reassembled, which took four months to complete.

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the renowned engineer who later designed the Eiffel Tower, played a crucial role in the statue's assembly. He created an ingenious iron framework to support the copper skin, allowing for flexibility while maintaining structural integrity. The iron framework was assembled first, followed by the copper skin, which was riveted to the framework. The statue's torch was then covered with gold leaf to enhance its visibility and brilliance.

With the assembly completed, the dedication ceremony was planned for October 28, 1886. The event was a grand affair attended by thousands of spectators, including President Grover Cleveland, who presided over the ceremony. A parade took place in the streets of New York City, with an array of floats, military bands, and civic organizations showcasing their enthusiasm and pride for this new symbol of freedom.

During the dedication, French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the statue's creator, was honored for his work. The ceremony included speeches by prominent figures, including President Cleveland, who spoke of the statue's significance as a symbol of friendship between France and the United States and the embodiment of freedom and democracy.

The dedication of the Statue of Liberty marked the beginning of its legacy as an iconic symbol of freedom, hope, and friendship. The grand event was a testament to the collaborative efforts of the French and American people and the determination to create a lasting monument to the shared values of liberty and democracy.

Significance and Legacy of the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is rich in symbolism that reflects the values of freedom, democracy, and hope. Over the years, its significance and legacy have transcended national boundaries and resonated with people from all walks of life.

  1. A Symbol of Freedom and Democracy: The statue, representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, embodies the ideals of liberty and democracy cherished by France and the United States. 

  2. A Welcoming Embrace for Immigrants: For millions of immigrants arriving in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the sight of the Statue of Liberty signaled hope for a new beginning in a land of opportunity. The statue's presence near Ellis Island, a former federal immigration processing center, highlights its role as a beacon of hope for those seeking refuge, prosperity, and a better life in America. 

  3. A Monument to International Friendship: The Statue of Liberty is not only a symbol of freedom and democracy but also a testament to the enduring friendship between France and the United States. The collaboration between French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and French engineer Gustave Eiffel, along with the support from the American public, demonstrates the power of international cooperation and unity in achieving common goals.

The significance and legacy of the Statue of Liberty extend far beyond its status as an impressive monument or a national symbol.

The Torch and the Crown

The torch and the crown on the Statue of Liberty hold deep symbolic meaning, representing enlightenment and unity. The torch, carried by Lady Liberty in her right hand, symbolizes the light of freedom and knowledge, illuminating the path to liberty and justice for all. It serves as a beacon of hope for those seeking a better life and a reminder of the power of knowledge in overcoming adversity. The crown, adorned with seven rays, signifies the global reach of the statue's message, as the rays represent the seven continents and the seven seas. This embodies the interconnectedness of nations and the universal aspiration for freedom, emphasizing that the values upheld by the Statue of Liberty are not exclusive to the United States but are shared by people worldwide.

The Broken Shackles and the Tablet

The broken shackles and the tablet held by the Statue of Liberty carry significant symbolism, representing freedom from oppression and the rule of law. At Lady Liberty's feet lie broken chains and shackles, symbolizing the end of bondage, tyranny and the triumph of liberty. These broken shackles remind us of countless individuals' struggles in pursuit of freedom while celebrating the resilience and strength of the human spirit. The tablet on her left arm is inscribed with the date "JULY IV MDCCLXXVI," marking the adoption of the United States Declaration of Independence. This tablet embodies the foundation of American democracy, emphasizing the importance of the rule of law and the principles of justice, equality, and self-governance. Together, these elements highlight the Statue of Liberty's core values, inspiring hope and encouraging a continuous pursuit of freedom and justice.

Preservation and Restoration Efforts

The Statue of Liberty has faced various challenges over the years due to natural wear and tear, environmental exposure, and aging. Preservation and restoration efforts have been crucial in ensuring that this iconic monument remains standing and continues to inspire future generations.

  1. 1984-1986 Restoration: The most significant restoration project in the statue's history took place between 1984 and 1986 in preparation for its centennial celebration. This $87 million project, funded by private donations and public-private partnerships, addressed several structural and aesthetic issues. Some notable improvements included replacing the original torch with a new gold-leaf-covered flame, refurbishing the iron framework, and installing new copper supports. The restoration also led to the creation of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, which focuses on preserving and promoting the statue and Ellis Island.

  2. Accessibility Improvements: In addition to preserving the statue's structural integrity, efforts have been made to make the monument more accessible to visitors with disabilities. Ramps, elevators, and other accessibility features have been added over the years, allowing people of all abilities to enjoy this iconic symbol of freedom.

  3. Ongoing Maintenance and Monitoring: Regular inspections and maintenance work are necessary to ensure the statue's long-term preservation. The National Park Service conducts periodic checks to monitor the statue's condition, identify potential issues, and carry out necessary repairs. These maintenance efforts are crucial in addressing problems before they escalate and significantly threaten the statue's integrity.

  4. Public Engagement and Education: Preservation and restoration efforts also involve engaging the public and raising awareness about the statue's historical significance and the need for ongoing conservation. The National Park Service and the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation collaborate to organize various educational programs, exhibits, and events to foster an appreciation for this cherished landmark and inspire the public to support its preservation.

  5. Environmental Protection Measures: As the Statue of Liberty is situated on an island in New York Harbor, measures have been implemented to protect the monument and its surroundings from climate change and pollution. The island's landscaping has been redesigned to include native plants that require less maintenance and help conserve water. Moreover, steps have been taken to minimize pollution from boats and other sources to preserve the statue's delicate copper skin and the surrounding ecosystem.

The preservation and restoration efforts undertaken throughout the years have been instrumental in maintaining the beauty and historical significance of the Statue of Liberty.

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