The story of the Statue of Liberty is a story of change. The people of France gave the Statue to the people of the United States 125 years ago (1885) in recognition of a friendship established during the American Revolution. Over the years, the meanings of the Statue have grown until she has become an international icon of freedom and liberty, the most recognizable symbol of democracy and quite possibly the most photographed statue or monument anywhere in the world.
The idea of the Statue originated around 1865 with Edouard de Laboulaye who saw the United States as a country that had proved that democracy was a viable type of government after surviving a Civil War and abolishing slavery. He also saw the gift as a way to reflect his wish for a democracy in France. Artist Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, who was known for large-scale work, was commissioned to design this sculpture and in 1874 came to the United States to look for a location for his monument. When he saw Bedloe’s Island from his ship as he sailed into the New York Harbor, he realized it was a perfect location because of the never ending audience it provided.
Bartholdi recruited French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923 and builder of the Eiffel Tower in Paris) to build a skeleton for his statue and used a technique called repousse to create her copper skin – hammering out each piece of copper until it was only 3/32 of an inch thick (the same as two pennies put together). Eiffel, realizing flexibility was needed to allow the Statue to sway in the sometimes violent harbor winds, designed a massive iron pylon and secondary skeletal framework which allowed the copper skin to move independently– yet stand upright.
The Statue became a joint effort between American and France. America built the pedestal, and the French assembled the Statue.
Completed in France in July of 1884, the Statue was disassembled and shipped to the United States, arriving in New York in June 1885. When the pedestal was finished, the Statue was re-assembled (it took four months) and dedicated October 28, 1886 in front of thousands of spectators. In his dedication address, President Grover Cleveland emphasized the spread of American ideals. The Statue is 305 feet from the ground to the tip of the flame – equivalent height of a 22-story building – and was then the tallest structure in New York.
The Statue faces Southeast and was strategically placed inside of Fort Wood which was a perfect base. And it’s position is perfect for ships entering the harbor to see her as a welcoming symbol. Classical images of Liberty have usually been represented by a woman and this Liberty’s face is said to be modeled after the sculptor’s mother.
It’s crown is open on a limited basis. The torch has been closed since the “Black Tom” explosion of July 30, 1916, which was one of the largest acts of sabotage to our nation prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941.
The torch is a symbol of enlightenment lighting the way to freedom and showing the path to Liberty. It’s official name represents her most important symbol: “Liberty Enlightening the World.” The torch, replaced in 1986, is a copper flame covered in 24K gold. It is reflective of the sun’s rays in daytime and lighted by 16 floodlights at night. The original torch, removed in 1984, is inside the lobby of the monument.
The tablet of law, held in the Statue’s left hand, has the date of American Independence July 4, 1776, written on it in Roman numerals (July IV, MDCCLXXVI). The seven spikes on the Statue’s crown represent the seven seas and continents of the world.
It’s location is on Liberty Island on federal property administered by the National Park Service and within the territorial jurisdiction of the State of New York. Visitors ride Ferries to and from the Park. They depart from both the State of New York and New Jersey. Ellis Island, the former federal immigration station, is a national museum of immigration, and is separate from Liberty Island.
Engraved on the pedestal is Emma Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus written in 1883, the year of father’s birth. Its best-known lines are:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Sent these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me …
The poem was placed on a plaque and affixed to an interior wall of the pedestal in 1903 where it was ignored until the 1930s when Europeans seeking asylum from Fascist persecution began arriving in large numbers. Then, recognizing the Statue’s true intentions, it was quoted in speeches and set to music by Irving Berlin and in 1986 the plaque was moved to an introductory exhibit in the pedestal. No one has described the American dream in a more memorable way:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame*
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed sunset-gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles, from her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome, her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin-cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied Pomp,” cries she
With silent lips, Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The Wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door?”
* The brazen giant of Greed fame refers to the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, a bronze monument to the sun god, destroyed by an earthquake in 226 B.C.
Your comments are welcome.