Officially known as “Liberty Enlightening the World”, this copper statue was a gift to the American people from the citizens of France. Designed by French sculptor Frederick Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustav Eiffel, it is a figure of a robed woman representing the Roman goddess “Libertas.”
The first idea for the statue was proposed in 1865 during a conversation between Bartholdi and Eduouard Rene de Laboulaye (although, some claim this was a myth and the actual idea was not formulated until 1870). In any event, in 1871 Bartholdi traveled to the United States in order to gain support for the project from “influential Americans.” Bartholdi’s plan immediately focused on Bedloe’s Island because ships had to sail passed it while arriving in New York. Laboulay’s and Bartoldi’s concept for the statue was based on two early American female figures that had been used as cultural symbols - i.e. “Columbia” and “The Goddess of Freedom” (widely used in Rome). They finally settled on “Libertas.” By 1878, the head of the statue had been completed and was on display at the Paris World’s Fair. Six years later, the whole statue was finished and presented to Levi P. Morton, U.S. Ambassador to France, at a ceremony in Paris. Eiffel’s structure was one of the earliest examples of “curtain wall” construction, meaning its exterior was not load bearing, but rather, the statue was supported by an interior framework. The pedestal for the statue in New York was almost finished by June of 1885, so the statue was disassembled and shipped to New York in crates.
The pedestal was constructed in Fort Wood, a disused army base on Bedloe’s Island, and was situated so that “Liberty” would be facing Southeast, thus, greeting ships arriving from the Atlantic Ocean. Even though the statue was complete, fund raising to pay for it had run into problems throughout the construction process. However, with a challenge to the American People by “New York World’s” publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, the $120,000 needed to complete construction of the pedestal was raised by August of 1885, with 80% of the total received in sums of less than a dollar.
Once the statue had been completely installed, famed landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted (noted for his work on Central Park), was hired to supervise the cleanup and landscaping of the island. “Liberty” was dedicated on October 28, 1886. As a parade marking the occasion passed the New York Stock Exchange, traders threw ticker tape from the windows. Thus, began the tradition of the “Ticker Tape Parade.” As the popularity of the statue rapidly grew, it soon became recognized as a landmark. During World War I, on July 30, 1916, sympathizers of Germany tried to sabotage the statue by setting off nearby explosives destined for Britain and France. While causing minor damage to the statue, seven people were killed in the incident. Once the United States had entered World War I, images of “Liberty” were used on recruitment posters. In 1924, the statue was declared a National Monument by Calvin Coolidge. Seven years later, the National Park Service assumed administration of Bedloe’s Island. An Act of Congress in 1956 officially renamed the island “Liberty Island” and in 1984, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Following the World Trade Center attacks, the island was closed to the public for safety reasons, but was reopened by the end of 2001.
Liberty and neighboring Ellis Island now comprise the “Statue of Liberty National Monument.” Since this is such an important part of our history, we felt compelled to visit it while in New York and we encourage anyone who travels to the city, to take the time to to explore this iconic image of freedom. It is well worth it!
Designed by Frederick Auguste Bartholdi and constructed by Gustav Eiffel, the Statue of Liberty faces southeast so that it can greet vessels sailing into New York from the Atlantic Ocean.
One of our favorite pictures taken from the island was this view of a ferry passing the American Flag with all the little sail boats in the background...