An Annotated History of New York City's Statue of Liberty

Author:Denise Perreault

The Statue of Liberty is a grand lady that stands proudly on Ellis Island in New York City. She is clad in a long flowing, green garment; standing ever so majestically with a torch raised high in one hand and carrying a stone tablet in the other. On top of her head she bears a crown which symbolizes the seven continents of the world. The massive structure represents freedom from oppression and tyranny for all people escaping to American in hopes of obtaining a better life. Though she stands as a monument, her presence, her history and her appeal is an inspiration for those seeking justice and equality that are basic rights of all human beings. She is the representation of liberty, for her inscription reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The Origins of the Statue of Liberty

Although the Statue of Liberty is located on Ellis Island, its humble beginnings did not begin in the United States of America. The idea and creation of such a monumental symbol of liberty for all took shape in France.

The tight relationship between France and the United States in 1865 proved that they were two great nations with ties that bound them together in regard to politics and the oppression that was bought on by the regime of Napoleon the third. During the American Revolution, it was France who aided America; furnishing the military troops with supplies such as artillery, ships, money and extra fighting men or soldiers during the war or revolt. America won its freedom from British control, but not without the help of the French and a noted French officer by the name of Marquis De Lafayette, who joined the American army. The ties between France and America were bought on because both nations sympathized with one another regarding issues on slavery, a democratic government and the oppressive British regime. The results of their views on such matters led the two nations to be known as “the two sisters.”

France admired and respected the United States for their endeavors in being independent. One Frenchmen by the name of Edouard Rene Laboulaye came up with the idea of presenting United States with a monument representing independence and liberty for which both nations stood for. Laboulaye had the idea or dream of such a monument, but it was Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, a noted French sculptor who took the idea and designed or sculpted the Statue of Liberty, which was patterned after the 19th century Roman goddess, Libertas, an idol who stood for freedom.

 Bartholdi and the New World

In the 19th century, it was very popular for monuments to be massive in size. Being a noted sculptor, the first statue constructed by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi was a 12 foot statue of Jean Rapp, a general in Napoleon Bonaparte’s military. Bartholdi’s artistic style consisted of patriotic art forms which were also grand and humungous in size.

Since the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France, it was Bartholdi who set sail to America to find the perfect spot for the immense gift that he was drafting. While in America, he also had to find financial backers to help support the construction of the work that had to be done.

 Bartholdi was amazed and astounded upon seeing the grand cities of New York once he arrived from his voyage into “the new world.” His voyage ended at Bedloe’s Island. To the sculptor, upon seeing the sights, his thoughts immediately led him to believe that this regal area was the Gateway to America, for in the new world, everything was big, elaborate and expensive, showing that money flowed. The island was the perfect spot for the monument, but getting financial supports proved to be difficult. People were not easily giving up the money even though they wanted the monument, which was originally called Liberty Enlightening the World. In order to get the project underway, it was decided that both France and America would pay for its construction; France paid for the statue, but America had to pay for the foundation it was to stand on, including that of the pedestal. Monies for this massive creation of art came in the form of fundraisers, here in America and in France.

Fundraising and the Statue of Liberty

When it came to obtaining monies for the statue in France, the Franco-American Union sponsored a lottery, which gave away two of Bartholdi’s works of art in the drawing. Between the fundraisers and the lottery, France paid 250 thousand dollars to get started on their part of the project. Though the statue itself was making remarkable strides in France, In America, the citizens were in disagreement over who should be paying for the fee for the foundation of the monument. Even the Governor vetoed a grant that would have paid 50,000 dollars. It took years for America to come up with $182, 491 dollars for the project. However, Joseph Pulitizer solved America’s financial woes by creating another fundraiser that created the sum of 100,000 dollars. By the time the statue was ready to make its journey to the new world, the project received 120,000 dollars worth of contributions. The statue arrived in New York not in one piece, but was carried over in 214 wood crates…ready for assembly.

The Masterminds of Construction

As you can imagine, a statue of this enormous size required not only the work of the sculptor, but the craftsmanship of an architect and the insight of a chief engineer. The architect on this project was Richard Morris Hunt. He masterminded the 89 foot high pedestal that was to sit on a concrete foundation. The chief engineer of the project was Charles P. Stone took charge of the entire construction project, overseeing the work of the foundation, the pedestal and the assembly of the statue, setting it in place permanently. It took construction workers six months to complete mounting the statue to its base.

The Day of Unveiling

When the Statue of Liberty was finally ready for unveiling, you can imagine the celebration and the spirit of the people when they first got a glimpse of “the lady”. The unveiling took place on October 28, 1886. It was declared a public holiday and all dignitaries were there to celebrate the occasion with the citizens of New York. On this day, the statue rose to a height of 305 feet, the largest structure in New York at that time. It is today, the central point of New York Harbor and the very first monument constructed of which visitors can walk inside the massive structure and climb to the top.

For Bartholdi, after witnessing the unveiling and seeing the final results of his imagination on display, he quoted to reporters a simple statement, “the dream of my life is accomplished.”

For more information on the Statue of Liberty, please see the following links.