Statue of Liberty
A gift to the people of the United States from the nation of France, the Statue of Liberty became a symbol of the United States and its largest city following its dedication. Envisioned by the president of France's anti-slavery society and designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the Statue symbolizes the friendship between France and the United States and the concept of liberty, equality, and opportunity in the United States. The statue was built by Gustave Eiffel, and dedicated on October 28, 1886. Liberty Island also contains five smaller statues of individuals who were instrumental in the effort to create this statue and its pedestal. Those individuals are Edouard René de Laboulaye, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Emma Lazurus, Gustave Eiffel, and Joseph Pulitzer.
Construction of Lady Liberty
The Statue of Liberty
Construction of the Statue of Liberty's arm in France
This poem by Emma Lazarus was instrumental to the effort to raise funds for the statue's pedestal and has come to symbolize the meaning of both the Statue of LIberty and the United States itself.
There are five smaller statues on Liberty Island that honor people such as Emma Lazarus whose stories are central to the statue's history and meaning.
This statue of sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi can be found near the statues of Lazarus, Gustave Eiffel, and others.
Backstory and Context
Bartholdi was inspired to create the Statue of Liberty by French law professor Édouard René de Laboulaye following the end of the American Civil War. In 1875, Laboulaye proposed that the United States build the pedestal and provide a location for the statue. The French financed the statue. Bartholdi finished the head and the arm bearing the torch before he had even finished designing the statue. Following the statue's completion, it was displayed at the Centennial Exposition in 1876, then at Madison Square Garden until 1882.
The United States had difficulty raising money for the pedestal, and many feared that the US would be unable to meet its commitment and that the project would be canceled. However, Joseph Pulitzer and others worked to promote a fundraising campaign that attracted donors. He attracted over one hundred and twenty thousand contributors, most of whom gave less than a dollar. The first poem read at the inaugural fundraiser was "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus. In later years, the poem would be inscribed at Liberty Island, and its powerful lines about immigration gave a voice to the Statue of Liberty.
The statue was built in France and shipped to the United States in crates. When the statue was completed, it was marked with New York City's first ticker tape parade. Until 1901, the statue was maintained by the United States Lighthouse Board. Tthe Department of War maintained the building until 1933, when the National Park Service stepped in. In 1924, it was deemed a National Monument. By the early 1980s, the statue was found to have deteriorated significantly since it had been assembled. Between 1984 and 1986, the Statue of Liberty was closed for renovations. The statue was also closed after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The pedestal was reopened in 2004, and the statue opened again in 2009.
Lady Liberty was created to mimic Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. She also holds a tabula ansata, a tablet evoking the law, inscribed with the date July 4, 1776, the day that the United States declared her independence from Great Britain. The statue's official name is "Liberty Enlightening the World," with her torch representing the most important symbol, enlightenment. The original torch was removed in 1984, and it was replaced with a copper torch covered in 24K gold to reflect the sunlight during the day and is lit by floodlights at night. Though they are not visible from the ground, Lady Liberty's feet are surrounded by broken chains symbolizing "breaking free from tyranny and servitude." Many also believe the seven spikes on her crown represent the seven seas and seven continents. Lady Liberty faces the southeast, serving as a welcoming face for arriving ships and a symbol of the United States and its grandest aspiration to provide liberty and justice for all.
Edward Berenson, The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2012
Lazurus, Emma. The New Colossus. Poetry Foundation. Accessed August 02, 2017. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46550/the-new-colossus.
Visiting the Statue of Liberty. National Park Service Foundation. Accessed August 02, 2017. https://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/statue-liberty-national-monument.