History of the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty in the New York Harbor is probably America's most famous landmark and a real tourist highlight of the city. But how did "Miss Liberty" get there and what role does it play for the USA? We have summarized all the important facts about the origin of this popular statue for you.

Key data on the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is a colossal neoclassical statue located on a small island called Liberty Island in the New York Harbor. Dedicated on October 28, 1886, it was a gift from the French people to the United States.

Today, the statue is America's most famous landmark and a symbol of freedom and independence. It is also known as Miss Liberty and Lady Liberty. With a proud total height of 93 meters it is one of the highest statues in the world.

Origin of the Statue of Liberty

By the end of the American Civil War around 1865, the French historian Edouard de Laboulaye had the idea of building a statue as a gift for the United States. The reason was his joy over the abolition of slavery and the successful establishment of a functioning democracy by the United States. Laboulaye was a strong admirer of the USA and had long wished to create a French-American monument.

His friend and sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design the statue in time for the centenary of the Declaration of Independence in 1876. The project should be a joint initiative of both countries and stand for the friendship between their nations. Thus, the French were in charge of the actual statue and its construction, whilst the Americans were building its pedestal.

Construction of the Statue of Liberty

Since the necessary funds for the statue still had to be provided, the actual work only started in 1875. Bartholdi's huge artwork portrayed a woman holding a torch in her right hand above her head. In her left hand she held a tablet that was engraved with "July 4, 1776" - the date of America's declaration of independence. He named it "Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World".

Bartholdi hammered huge copper plates to build the skin of the statue. It is believed that he shaped the face of the statue after his mother. He turned to Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, to create the framework on which the skin was to be mounted. Eiffel then collaborated with Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc to build a steel and iron pylon frame.

Fundraising campaigns in America

While the statue itself was being worked on in France, there were numerous fundraising campaigns in the USA for the construction of the pedestal. In the beginning it was quite difficult to convince the people in the USA and especially the New Yorkers to build the statue. Eventually the renowned publisher Joseph Pulitzer used his tabloid New York World to collect the last necessary donations.

The pedestal of the statue was then designed by American architect Richard Morris Hunt and constructed in the courtyard of Fort Wood on the former Bedloe's Island in the south of Manhattan.

Assembly and opening of the Statue of Liberty

Bartholdi completed the statue in France in 1885. It was then dismantled into about 350 pieces and shipped to New York in more than 200 boxes. The statue arrived in June on board of the French frigate Isere, which almost sank due to the stormy sea. However, it took until April 1886, until the pedestal was finished by the Americans.

Only then was the Statue of Liberty reassembled and placed on the pedestal. On 28 October 1886, US President Grover Cleveland officially inaugurated the Statue of Liberty and announced in a short speech to several thousand spectators: "She holds aloft the light which illumines the way to man’s enfranchisement".

Significance of the statue for Ellis Island

Close to Bedloes's Island in the Upper New York Bay, the US government openend an immigration station on Ellis Island in 1892. Between the years of 1892 and 1954, approximately 12 million immigrants were registered on Ellis Island before being allowed to enter the USA. In the peak years of 1900-14, about 5,000 to 10,000 people passed through Ellis Island daily.

The nearby Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor welcomed the immigrants to Ellis Island majestically. It was often the first thing the arrivals could see from the ship in the distance. A poem called "The New Colossus" is engraved on a plaque at the entrance to the pedestal of the statue. The most popular passage refers to the statue's role as a welcome symbol of freedom for the many millions of foreigners who arrived in America to pursue a better life.

Recognition and restorations in the 20th century

In 1924, the US government declared the Statue of Liberty a National Monument. Later, in 1956, the name of Bedloe's Island was changed to Liberty Island. About 10 years after Ellis Island had been closed, it also was made part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965.

In the early 20th century, the copper skin of the Statue of Liberty had already acquired an unmistakable green colour due to various weather conditions such as rain and sun. So the statue was closed in 1984 and extensively restored in time for its one hundred year anniversary. In that same year it was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Statue of Liberty was finally reopened to the public on 5 July 1986 as part of a centenary celebration.

Visiting the Statue of Liberty

Due to its magnificent appearance, the statue quickly became a popular tourist magnet. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Liberty Island was closed for 100 days. However, the Statue of Liberty itself was only reopened to visitors in August 2004. The crown of the statue, including the viewing platform, was made available to the public again in July 2009, but visitors first have to make a reservation.

Liberty Island can only be reached via the public ferry system, for example from the southern tip of Manhattan. If you are satisfied with a view of the statue from the water, you should definitely make use of the free Staten Island Ferry - it offers a perfect view onto the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Lower Manhattan.

Interesting facts about the Statue of Liberty

  • The full name of the statue is "Liberty Enlightening the World".
  • The female robe figure represents Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom.
  • The total weight of the Statue of Liberty is about 205 tons.
  • The head from the chin to the top of the skull is over 5 meters high.
  • The statue has a waist measurement of almost 11 meters.
  • The original torch of the statue was replaced by a new copper torch with 24k gold leaf in 1984.
  • Her crown has seven spikes representing each of the seven continents and oceans. There are 25 windows in the crown.
  • At the feet of the statue lie broken shackles and chains. Her right foot is raised and represents her move away from oppression and slavery.
  • 300 different types of hammers were used to build the copper structure.
  • There are 354 steps from the pedestal up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty.
  • The Statue of Liberty became a symbol of immigration in the second half of the 19th century, when over 9 million immigrants arrived by ship and often saw the statue first.
  • When the statue was first erected in 1886, it was the highest iron construction ever built.
  • The statue served as a lighthouse for 16 years (1886-1902) and shone at a distance of up to 24 miles.
  • It is believed that Lady Liberty has been struck by around 600 lightning bolts every year since its construction.
  • There are several replicas of the statue, including a smaller version in Paris and one on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada.


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history.com, nps.gov, telegraph.co.uk