Building the Statue of Liberty (1865-1886)

By: Evan Scoboria, Last updated: September 5, 2023

Building the Statue of Liberty

From its initial proposal in 1865 by French intellectual Edouard de Laboulaye to its eventual unveiling in 1886, the construction of the Statue of Liberty spanned over two decades and involved many challenges. Divided into key sections—initial concept and planning, sculpting, pedestal construction, and shipping and installation—this article focuses on the time spent and the intricacies of each stage. 

Creating the Statue of Liberty (1865-1886)

In 1865, Edouard de Laboulaye, a French political intellectual, proposed the idea of a statue for the United States. French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi began the design process in 1870, five years after the initial proposal.

Bartholdi took a significant trip to the United States in 1871, a year after starting the design. The purpose of this trip was to select a location for the statue. He chose Bedloe's Island, noting its visibility to incoming ships in New York Harbor.

Thus, from the proposal in 1865 to the site selection in 1871, it took six years to move from the concept to the planning stage, setting the groundwork for the statue's eventual construction.

Sculpting the Statue of Liberty (1876-1884)

Sculpting the Statue of Liberty

French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi spent six years designing the Statue of Liberty, beginning in 1870 and ending at the start of construction in 1876. The initial phase involved making small clay models to finalize the statue's concept. After confirming the design, a life-sized plaster model was created. This model was then broken down into smaller pieces to enable the crafting of the statue's copper elements.

For the internal framework of the statue, Bartholdi teamed up with French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. Eiffel's design ensured that the copper skin could be firmly attached while still retaining the flexibility needed for the statue to endure environmental stresses such as strong winds.

The sculpting process took eight years, from 1876-1884, demanding meticulous craftsmanship. The copper pieces were individually sculpted and later assembled to complete the statue. This extended timeline was necessary to achieve the monument's complex design and structural integrity.

The Pedestal and Base of the Statue (1883-1886)

Building the Pedestal and Base of the Statue

Richard Morris Hunt designed the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, using granite and concrete as the primary materials. Construction of the Statue of Liberty's pedestal began in 1883 and took four years to complete, ending in 1886. The design features a square base, four large buttresses, and a central shaft that rises more than 89 feet above ground level.

Funding for the pedestal was an issue, causing delays in the construction timeline. A public fundraising campaign led by Joseph Pulitzer through his newspaper, The New York World, eventually raised the necessary money. Thousands of individual donations made it possible to continue construction, which took place on Bedloe's Island, now known as Liberty Island.

The construction process involved several steps: laying the foundation, assembling the granite blocks for the base and buttresses, and pouring concrete for the central shaft. Workers faced challenges such as adverse weather and logistical difficulties in transporting the heavy granite blocks. After the pedestal's completion in 1886, the disassembled Statue of Liberty, which had arrived from France, was hoisted and assembled on top of it.

Shipping and Installation of the Statue (1885-1886)

Shipping the Statue of Liberty

The statue was disassembled into over 300 individual pieces and packed into more than 200 wooden crates for transport. These were loaded onto the French naval ship "Isère" in June 1885. Despite encountering rough seas and strong winds that delayed the journey, the ship arrived in New York Harbor on June 17, 1885.

The crates were offloaded and moved to Liberty Island, where they were stored pending the completion of the pedestal. Construction delays on the pedestal meant that the statue's pieces remained in storage for an extended period. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, who had engineered the statue's internal framework, oversaw the reassembly process.

Reassembling the statue took several months and was a complex operation. Workers used derricks, pulleys, and winches to hoist each piece into its correct position. The internal iron framework was assembled first, followed by the copper skin, which was riveted to the framework in a specific sequence to maintain structural integrity. On October 28, 1886, the statue was fully assembled and officially unveiled.

Statue Of Liberty

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