In 1986 for her hundred year birthday, the Statue of Liberty was refurbished and given a complete makeover. This great statue that is one of the most recognizable landmarks on the planet grew from an idea that started at dinner between a historian and a sculptor.
The year was 1865 and in a small town near Versailles, Edouard de Laboulaye, an eminent historian and Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, a young sculptor, were discussing Laboulaye’s three-volume history of the United States over dinner. The United States was quickly approaching its independence centennial and the historian suggested that France should present America with a present to commemorate this great milestone. Bartholdi immediately had a vision of a massive statue. When the dinner was over so was the discussion for Laboulaye, but the idea remained with Bartholdi.
Bartholdi’s Idea for a Statue
Later when Bartholdi was on a trip to Egypt, he found himself enthralled by the ancient colossi. He tried to persuade the authorities for a commission to create a large statue to grace the entrance of the newly completed Suez Canal. Before he could get a response to secure the assignment, war erupted between France and Prussia.
Bartholdi kept thinking about the giant statue all through the war and in 1871 he went to New York on a visit. In the bustling mouth of New York harbor he saw the perfect spot for a statue. Bedloe’s Island was a twelve-acre piece of land that was southwest to the tip of Manhattan. He was so inspired that he had completed sketches before the boat he was on even docked. Artists, engineers and fund-raisers started the Franco-American project to erect the statue, for an unveiling in a little over five years.
Liberty Enlightening the World
The statue would be 152 feet high and weigh over 225 tons. It was to be named Liberty Enlightening the World. The completed statue would contain more than three hundred sheets of hand-hammered copper. While France offered to fund the project, American agreed to finance the pedestal that the statue rested upon.
The building was supervised by the French railroad builder Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, who would become famous from the tower that bears his name. The face of the statue was modeled after Bartholdi’s mother who posed for him.
French Citizens Donate for the Statue of Liberty
The French were very supportive of the project and contributed generously. French citizens mailed in checks and cash to help with the project. A total of $400,000 was raised and the French composer Charles Gounod wrote a cantata to add to the celebration.
However in America the citizens were less than enthusiastic. They wondered if America really needed a statue. Joseph Pulitzer the famous publisher organized a drive for funds in the World, his newspaper. In 1885, he penned an editorial saying what a disgrace it would be if Americans turned down such a great gift from France.
He ridiculed the New York millionaires who spent money on trinkets while the French funded the large percentage of the statue. His tirades raised $270,000 in just over two months.
Even with France and America working together, the deadline was not met. The statue was not completed and only the arm was shown at the centennial celebration in Philadelphia. Two years later at the great Paris Fair, the citizens of France were given a viewing of Liberty’s head.
The New Colossus Poem
Putting the statue together in France was difficult but taking it apart to ship it to America was even more daunting. It took two hundred mammoth crates to load the million – pound pieces of the statue and a train of seventy railroad cars to get it to the shipyard. The statue traveled to America aboard the French warship, the Isere.
President Grover Cleveland headed the statue’s ceremonies when it was placed on the rock pedestal on October 28, 1886. When the statue was put into place one important item was missing. The lines from the famous poem, The New Colossus, “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” This was not added until 1903 when the statue became associated with immigrants who landed on nearby Ellis Island.
The statue is still today a symbol of freedom and liberty that represents the values of American and the people who live here.