What is the Statue of Liberty? History, Construction, Symbolism, & Important Facts
The Statue of Liberty is one of the most iconic landmarks in the United States. Standing at 93 meters (from ground level to torch), the gigantic statue shows the good relationship between the U.S. and France. Watching over the New York Harbor, this iconic figure also symbolizes hope, freedom, and inspiration.
It was designed in France by renowned artist Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and officially dedicated in the United States in 1886 by then-U.S. President Grover Cleveland. Since then, it has served as a popular tourist destination to many people who visit Liberty Island located in the Upper New York Bay.
This article sheds light on the history behind this national treasure as well as the various interesting stories about the statue. It also seeks to understand the true meaning of the Statue of Liberty so as to make your next visit to the place a more profound experience.
Why is the Statue of Liberty green?
Before delving into the history and meaning of the Statue of Liberty, we must first answer one of the most asked questions about Lady Liberty: Why is the statue green?
The Statue of Liberty is green because of a process called patination. When the statue was first erected in 1886, it was made of copper, which is a metal that naturally develops a greenish-blue patina over time when exposed to the elements.
This patina is caused by a reaction between the copper and the air, which creates a layer of copper carbonate on the surface of the statue. The copper carbonate is a durable substance that protects the underlying copper from further corrosion and gives the statue its distinctive green color.
Over the years, the patina on the Statue of Liberty has continued to develop and deepen, resulting in the iconic green hue that we associate with the statue today. In fact, the patina is so thick that it can be up to 0.125 inches (3.2 mm) deep in some areas.
While the green color of the Statue of Liberty is largely due to the patination process, it is also worth noting that the statue’s color can vary depending on the lighting conditions and time of day. For example, the statue can appear more blue or brownish in certain lighting, and it may also appear brighter or darker depending on the amount of sunlight it is exposed to.
A brief history of the Statue of Liberty
Officially named “Liberty Enlightening the World”, the monument was given to the United States by France as a gift to celebrate the former’s independence declaration. When America gained independence, French anti-slavery activist Édouard René de Laboulaye proposed a gift to be given to the new country. Bear in mind, the French contributed in so many ways in America’s fight for independence. By 1875, Bartholdi had started working on the statue after raising funds from the public.
The sculptor Bartholdi later proposed a united effort between France and the United States to complete the project. After the proposal was given the green light, the U.S. took the cost of producing the pedestal, while France paid for the construction and assembling of the statue. After close to a decade of work, the project was completed in 1884 and presented to then America’s representative to France, Levi Morton.
The following year, the over 151-foot-tall structure was transported to the United States via Isère, a French steamer. It arrived in New York and was welcomed by over 150,000 people. By then Richard Morris Hunt, an American architect, was working on the pedestal at Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island). Everything was completed in 1886, and the giant monument was dedicated that same year.
What are some notable features of the Statue of Liberty?
The statue is named after the Roman goddess called Libertas. Generally associated with freedom, the depictions of the goddess were used as the model for the statue. Anyone who suggested this name was a genius because it clearly highlights the reason for the statue.
Other sources have also suggested that the face was modelled on that of Augusta Charlotte Bartholdi, mother of the designer. This could be true because the designer spent most of his early years with his mother after losing his dad at the age of two.
In her left hand, she holds a tablet with the inscription “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” which translates into English as “July 4, 1776”, the date the Declaration of Independence.
The torch, which she has raised with her right hand, is said to symbolize enlightenment, hence its name “Liberty Enlightening the World” (French: “La Liberté éclairant le monde”).
From the feet of the woman-like figure to the end of the torch, the statue stands at 151 feet in height, that’s approximately a 15-story building. She stands on a 154-foot-tall pedestal, making it one of the tallest landmarks in the world.
On the head of the statue is a crown with seven spikes which depict the number of continents in the world. This message communicates the universal importance of liberty.
It also represents the world’s seven seas. The crown has 25 windows, representing gemstones of the crown.
A broken chain and shackle can be seen at the foot of the statue which commemorates the abolishment of slavery in the United States [i.e. The 13th Amendment, adopted on December 18, 1865, officially abolished slavery]. Aside from its general assumption, the broken chain also symbolizes opportunities and hope, concepts that have been associated with the United States for many years.
Bartholdi initially intended for Lady Liberty to hold the chains in her hands. However, this idea was seen by many as having the propensity to bring America’s bitter past of slavery to the surface. Therefore, Bartholdi opted for a tablet – showing the Declaration of Independence. He then decided to have those chains tucked almost out of sight at the feet of Lady Liberty. It thus serves as a powerful symbol of America’s enduring struggle for racial equality.
Inside the structure is a staircase with 192 steps which leads to the very top of the monument. The metal framework of the statue was created by Gustave Eiffel, the renowned French civil engineer best known for the world-famous Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.
A sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus, which is titled “The New Colossus”, can be seen on a plaque at the entrance of the pedestal.
How much money was needed for the construction of the Statue of Liberty?
Building a 300 feet statue is likely to cost you a fortune. Records have it that the total cost of the project was around $400,000 or 2 million francs as at the time it was built. This will be a huge amount in the 21st Century taking into consideration the inflation rate and other economic factors.
As at the time the statue was built, America was still a young country and France was now recovering from the Franco-Prussian War. This means that both countries weren’t financially strong enough to fund the project from their coffers. They then relied on fundraising to gather money for the construction of what would become an international icon.
Both countries raised money individually to handle different aspects of the project. France gathered money for the copper statue, while the United States was responsible for the pedestal. Many events were held in France as part of their fundraising exercise. Some of these activities were lottery, public fees, and other entertainment programs. The United States on the other hand organized prizefights, art exhibitions, and theatrical events. They also auctioned Lazarus’ sonnet which would later be displayed at the entrance of the pedestal.
In 1885, Joseph Pulitzer, a wealthy publisher, appealed for funds through an advertisement which was published in his newspaper called the New York World. This initiative raised more than $100,000 which helped to complete the pedestal. In return, Pulitzer published the names of the donors in the newspaper.
Construction of the Statue of Liberty
As stated earlier, the statue was built in France and moved to the United States in the late 1800s. It was created at the workshop of Gaget, Gauthier & Compagnie by more than 60 craftsmen. French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc helped in the construction of the hands and head. After his death, Bartholdi contacted Eiffel who would provide the sketches and designs of the skeletal framework and iron pylon to accommodate the copper skin of the statue. The designs were executed by Joachim Goschen Giæver, a Norwegian civil engineer.
The gigantic statue was completed in 1884. Later that year, Richard Morris Hunt began working on the pedestal. Within two years, the pedestal was completed and everything looked set for the statue to stand on its feet.
Did you know…?
It was initially planned that the Statue of Liberty would be used to commemorate the 100th anniversary of our nation’s independence. However, due to issues with the assembling, the project ended up taking about ten years to complete.
Moving from Europe to North America and dedication
Aboard the Isère, Lady Liberty enjoyed a smooth journey across the Atlantic Ocean. It moved to the United States a year after it was completed. For easy transportation, it was divided into 350 pieces and arranged into over 210 crates. The consignment reached the shores of the United States in 1885 and was kept at Bedloe’s Island until the completion of the pedestal.
The year was 1886 and all aspects of the projects have been completed. It was now time for the one-of-a-kind statue to be dedicated and opened for the general public. On October 28, a ceremony was held in New York which was attended by then-president of the country, Grover Cleveland.
There were parades and concerts to outdoor this iconic figure. Many dignitaries such as American statesman William M. Evarts, and Ferdinand de Lesseps, a French diplomat, who later addressed the gathering.
Is the original one the same as what it is today?
Though the statue looks the same as its original plan, there have been a number of renovations and changes over the years. In Bartholdi’s original work, he used a solid copper material for the torch’s flame. These copper sheets were expected to shine during the day. The infamous Black Tom explosion, which happened in 1916, had a great impact on the statue. It destroyed some portions of the figure which included the torch. After the incident, some of the copper sheets were replaced by cathedral glass.
The torch underwent another change in the 1980s, when the statue was renovated ahead of its centennial anniversary. In 1986, the torch was changed to its current state. The flame of the torch is said to be covered with 24-karat gold. In recent times, an elevated was installed in the structure to aid in movement.
Why is Lady Liberty a popular destination for tourists?
The Statue of Liberty is one of the most visited public places in the United States. It has generated lots of money to the United States government since it was opened to the public. About four million tourists visit the iconic monument every year. According to records, over 200 people are allowed to move from the bottom to the top of the statue every day.
National Park Service
The iconic landmark has been managed by the National Park Service since 1933. It has been categorized under the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Prior to that, it was placed under the care of the United States Lighthouse Board. It was briefly managed by the Department of War from 1901 to 1933.
Renovations in the 1980s
In the early 1980s, a serious refurbishment was undertaken on the Lady Liberty and the various islands. Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan placed the refurbishment in the hands of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Commission.
A lot of repairs were undertaken, and most importantly, the 1.5-ton original torch of the Lady Liberty was replaced in 1984. The replacement, which was installed in 1985, has a 24-carat gold leaf gilding.
All in all, the renovations, including the torch, of the 1980s cost New York about $39 million (about $105 million in today’s money).
As for the renovations on Ellis islands, the bill was around $130 million (about $370 million).
Statue of Liberty Museum
The Statue of Liberty Museum was completed in 2019. It was built as a separate entity from the Statue and the pedestal in order to reduce the traffic to the premises. The museum, which occupies about 26,000 square feet, contains the original torch of the Statue of Liberty. It cost about $70 million to construct.
The museum provides audio tours in at least 10 different languages. This perfectly epitomizes the major themes of Lady Liberty, which is basically freedom and equality for all.
The Statue of Liberty and America’s Immigration Policy
In Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus”, the author – who was of Jewish origins – sheds light on the struggle of millions of people around the world for freedom, liberty and racial equality. She sought to portray the United States as a haven for people fleeing from those terrible places and conditions.
However, there have been some that maintain that the true meaning of Lady Liberty had nothing to do with immigration, citing how the U.S. at the time (and even to this day) did not have an open immigration policy. Those who hold this view chastise the U.S. immigration system for continuously discriminating against non-white and poor immigrants. For example, the immigration policy of many Southern states at the time banned people of color, especially blacks, from entering their states.
The fact that the copper statue of Liberty is close to Ellis Island, America’s busiest immigration center in the early 20th century, made many people to reimagine Lady Liberty to incorporate ideals of an open-immigration policy. However, that was never the true intention of the people behind the icon.
FAQs about the Statue of Liberty
The following are some important questions asked about Lady Liberty:
Why is the Statue of Liberty a woman?
The reason can be traced to ancient Roman traditions of depicting important virtues like piety, kindness and good faith in the form of a woman. Perhaps the most notable ancient Roman representation of this point is Nike, the Roman goddess of victory. Regarding the concept of liberty, the personification of liberty in ancient Roman era was the goddess Libertas.
For example, Roman emperor Galba’s “Freedom of the People” coins depicted the goddess Libertas holding the liberty rod and pileus (i.e. a liberty cap in ancient Rome), both symbols of liberty.
Centuries later, artists of the Renaissance era incorporated this style into their works. This would explain why French Revolutionaries in the early 19th century frequently feminized the concept of liberty.
French artist Eugène Delacroix produced “Liberty Leading the People” to commemorate the French Revolution of 1830 – a revolution that saw the removal of French King Charles X. Delacroix’s painting shows Lady Liberty inspiring the people to march against tyranny and oppression.
And after the French Revolution of 1848, French artist Ange-Louis Janet painted “La République”, which shows a very composed Lady Liberty sitting on a throne and carrying a torch above her head.
It is most likely that Bartholdi’s depiction of Lady Liberty took inspiration from Ange-Louis Janet’s painting. Bartholdi hoped that his portrayal of Liberty would serve as a potent inspiration to future generations to remain committed to ideals like freedom, racial equality, justice, and liberty.
What does the torch symbolize?
The torch on the statue serves as welcoming beacon for immigrants to the U.S. It evokes almost similar themes as the poem “The New Colossus”, written by American poet Emma Lazarus.
It’s important to note that because the Statue was made of glistening copper, designers had a really difficult time picking materials for torch in order to make the torch glow brighter than the statue.
Why is the right foot of the Statue of Liberty raised?
Her right foot is raised, which symbolizes the progress she is making as she takes a step into the future, free from all oppression and servitude.
As stated above, the statue is a celebration of the emancipation of slaves. All those symbols were aimed at inspiring hope in immigrants that settle in the United States.
How much did it cost to construct the Statue of Liberty?
The bill for the construction of the Statue of Liberty came from the kind donations of the French public. The American public footed the bill for the construction of the pedestal. In France, an organization called the French-American Union was established to help in the collection of donations for the construction of the statue. Basically everyone, from wealthy businessmen to high school children, chipped in.
In America, a similar organization was set up to raise funds for the construction of the Statue’s pedestal. There were some bit of challenge, however, in America, as some people were reluctant to donate. The New York Times, for example, saw the whole project as a big waste of money. Had it not been for the carefully orchestrated rumor that Bartholdi peddled, the project would not have gone on smoothly.
Bartholdi fanned the rumor that the Statue was set to be placed in Boston, Massachusetts instead of New York as New Yorkers were proving stingy. New Yorkers dreaded the thought of that ever happening; therefore, they increased their contribution to the project.
Handsome donations and support came from renowned Hungarian-American newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer and American poet Emma Lazarus. The former printed the name of every individual or firm that donated to the project in his newspaper, The World.
It’s been estimated that the total donations in the U.S. came from about 155,000 people.
All in all, the statue cost about $400,000 (around 2 million francs) to complete. In today’s dollar, that figure is about $12.5 million.
On the other hand, the total cost of the pedestal was around a quarter of a million USD. That is almost $8 million in today’s dollar.
The total cost of the whole project was therefore about $650,000 (equivalent to about $20 million today).
When did Lady Liberty arrive in the U.S.?
The Statue of Liberty arrived on the shores of New York on June 17, 1885. It made the journey aboard the French frigate Isère. The iconic statue was welcomed by almost a quarter of a million New Yorkers.
How much does it cost to maintain the statue and Ellis islands?
The National Park Service sets aside about $6 million every year for the maintenance of both the statue and Ellis islands.
Did you know?
Lady Liberty is undoubtedly one of the most famous statues in the world. It ranks alongside with the likes of the Christ the Redeemer in Brazil and the Statue of Unity in the state of Gujarat, India.
Below are a few more interesting facts about the iconic statue:
- About six hundred lightning bolts hit the statue every year.
- During World War I, the statue suffered some damages almost to the tune of $100,000.
- The head of the statue is 17 ft. 3 in. height, and the right arm is 42 ft. long.
- From the foundation to the torch, Lady Liberty’s total height is 305 feet.
- A replica of the statue can be seen in Paris (near the Pont de Grenelle-Cadets de Saumur), and Tokyo Bay (close to the Rainbow Bridge) in Japan.
- Over the years, Lady Liberty has been featured on a number of mail stamps, and coins in the United States.
- Following the heinous 9/11 attacks in New York, authorities closed the premises for more than three months. The crown did not open until 2009.