The Statue of Liberty, officially known as "Liberty Enlightening the World," originated as a gift from the people of France to the United States to commemorate the Centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. The idea for the statue was first proposed by French political thinker and abolitionist Édouard René de Laboulaye in 1865. Laboulaye saw the statue as a way to celebrate both the Union's victory in the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery, as well as to strengthen the friendship between France and the United States.
The project was a bilateral effort from the start. While the French would design and construct the statue, Americans were responsible for providing the pedestal on which it would stand. French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi was selected to design the statue. Bartholdi took inspiration from various sources, including classical representations of the Roman goddess Libertas. Bartholdi collaborated with Gustave Eiffel for structural engineering, who later gained fame for the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
The Statue of Liberty was transported from France to the United States in 1885.
The sheer size and weight of the Statue of Liberty posed a significant challenge for its transportation across the Atlantic Ocean. The statue was carefully dismantled into 350 pieces to facilitate the journey and packed into over 200 wooden crates.
Each component was meticulously cataloged and labeled to ensure proper reassembly upon arrival in the United States. The disassembly process was delicate, as the statue's copper skin was only about 2.4 millimeters (0.094 inches) thick – slightly thinner than the width of two pennies. Interestingly, the statue at that time would not have exhibited the green hue we are accustomed to as its copper exterior would more resemble a penny's color.
In May 1885, the crates containing the disassembled Statue of Liberty were loaded onto the French steamer SS Isère for their transatlantic voyage. The journey was not without its challenges, as the ship encountered severe weather, which threatened the safety of the precious cargo. Fortunately, the Isère arrived in New York Harbor on June 17, 1885, where the crates were unloaded onto a smaller vessel to be taken to Bedloe's Island, now known as Liberty Island, where the statue would be reassembled.
Before the statue could be reassembled, the pedestal needed to be completed. While the French were responsible for the statue, Americans had agreed to provide the pedestal. Funding for the pedestal had been challenging and included a fundraising campaign led by Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World newspaper. The pedestal was designed by American architect Richard Morris Hunt and was completed in April 1886, allowing the reassembly of the statue to be finalized. During this time, the statue's components remained in storage on the island.
The statue’s iron framework, designed by Gustave Eiffel, was first erected on the newly completed pedestal made of concrete and granite. Once the framework was in place, the copper sheets that formed the statue were attached. Each piece was carefully hoisted into place with the assistance of a custom-built scaffold system, and the statue was reassembled using the same rivets that held it together in France. The reassembly took approximately four months to complete and involved a team of workers following specific guidelines set forth by Bartholdi and Eiffel.
On October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was officially dedicated in a ceremony presided over by President Grover Cleveland. The event was attended by thousands of spectators, who celebrated the unveiling of the colossal monument that would become an enduring symbol of freedom and democracy. Since then, millions of visitors to NYC have purchased tickets to view the statue up close and wander the shores of Liberty Island.
The transportation and assembly of the Statue of Liberty were remarkable achievements in the annals of engineering and international cooperation. Lady Liberty's journey from France to her home in New York Harbor is a testament to the dedication, skill, and perseverance of the many individuals involved in bringing this iconic symbol of freedom to the United States. Today, the Statue of Liberty remains a beloved symbol of American values, serving as a beacon of hope and inspiration for millions worldwide.