A History of New York City’s Statue of Liberty

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A History of New York City’s Statue of Liberty

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The iconic Statue of Liberty greets all who enter the mouth of the Hudson River, the gateway to America. She stands tall and holds in one hand a torch high into the air. A torch that represents enlightenment as it lights the way to freedom. Her other hand holds a stone tablet with July 4, 1776, engraved on it representing the day of the Declaration of Independence for the United States. Her head dawns a crown symbolizing the seven continents of the world. She is rich with symbolism, but mostly she is first a symbol of liberty and freedom. However, that symbolism didn’t start where she stands on Liberty Island, or even at the nearby Ellis Island; the symbolism began in France.

France and the United States built a bond during the reign of Napoleon. Both of these nations had similar beliefs in how people should be treated in regards to oppression and slavery. Additionally, both countries were in agreement with their democratic views on politics. It was these bonds and beliefs that made France want to help the United States with their freedom from Britain during the American Revolution. They provided America with supplies, money, and men, all of which helped win the war.

After the American Revolution, France continued to embrace the United States. The independence the United States showed was greatly respected; in particular by a Frenchman named Edouard Rene Laboulaye. This man was in love with how both his country and the United States stood for liberty and freedom. He was impressed with the United States and proposed the idea of giving the United States a monument that embodied everything both countries believed.

Although it was Laboulaye that came up with the idea for the monument, it was a French sculptor by the name of Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi who agreed with Laboulaye’s idea and designed the statue. It was his idea to replicate the statue after Libertas, a Roman goddess that embodies liberty.

A site had to be chosen for the monument and Bartholdi traveled to the United States to find just the right place. He decided on Bedloe’s Island, now called Liberty Island, because this location was visible to all ships entering the harbor. Like others at the time, he considered this New York Harbor the gateway to America, and thus the perfect location for the future monument. Bartholdi returned to France and began to compile a team of artisans to help him complete the statue. In 1876, a piece of the statue was completed. The first piece went on to be displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. In 1878, the shoulders and head were completed and then exhibited at the Paris Universal Exposition. It took some time, but between 1881 and 1884 the final statue was assembled in Paris.

Back in the United States, construction of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty began in 1884. U.S. Minister Levi P. Morton then traveled to France where the statue was presented to him on July 4, 1884. The statue was then disassembled and sent to the United States. Unfortunately, by the time it arrived on June 17, 1885, the pedestal was not complete. The pedestal architect, Richard Morris Hunt had designed an 89-foot pedestal on a concrete foundation that could hold the enormous statue. It took workers six more months, and in 1886 that statue was assembled and mounted on its base.

On October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was unveiled. The day was declared a holiday and the citizens of New York, as well as political figures, and special guests, such as Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, were all in attendance. There was great excitement and celebration after seeing the first look of “Lady Liberty.” The statue stood at the height of 305 feet and towered over all other New York structures at the time. It was an amazing site to see. For Bartholdi, it was the moment he saw his dreams realized. The Statue of Liberty symbolized everything he had imagined and represented liberty to a perfection; so much so that even her inscription reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Discover more about the history of New York City’s Statue of Liberty by viewing the following websites:

Last modified: April 9, 2018