What's the History?
America won its independence from Britain mainly with the
assistance of the French who provided manpower and arms to
the American colonies. The two nations shared an allegiance
of respect and friendship from America's independence in the
100 years later, sculptor and intellectual Bartholdi,
who opposed the regime of Napoleon III, admired the American's
success in democratic government. After many drinks at a party,
he talked with his fellow intellectuals about the love of
liberty the two nations share, and they called their nations
"the two sisters". The American independence centennial
was 11 years away, and it was at this party that they sparked
the idea of presenting the American nation a lasting monument
of their independence and human liberty.
The sculptor Batholdi's father died when he was a baby, and
he was raised solely but his possessive and stern mother,
Charlotte. Liberty has strange Freudian connections as the
French sculpture Bartholdi is thought to have based the design
on the face of his mother and body of his lover.
Reflecting the spirit of classical Greek and Roman Civilisations,
the statue is constructed in a typical neo-classical style
popular in the 19th century. The Sphinx may also have been
a source of inspiration from Batholdi's trip to Egypt, as
a way of uniting the old and the new worlds. It was in Egypt
that Bartholdi met and was awed by the enthusiasm of engineer
Marie de Lesseps who had a vision of constructin a
canal across the desert, which was later realised in the Suez
Canal. The design of Liberty is based on a robed Egyptian
peasant with light like a halo bursting from her crown and
torch thrust towards the heavens.
Tempting the New World
In 1871, Bartholdi sailed from France to America to find a
site for the statue and "sell" the idea to the Americans.
He found the perfect spot even before he landed on the shores,
on an island outside of the bay. He was amazed by the majesty
and size of the 'New World', and commented that "everything
in America is big
even the peas are big." He carried
with him a sketch of the future statue and a small model to
promote the project. It took another 3 years for a compromise
to be made - the French would pay for the making of the statue,
and the American would pay for the pedestal and installation.
A joint committee was established to raise the funds, with
various celebratory galas, operas and events.
Bartholdi and his team began work on Liberty, hoping funds
would come in before the centennial anniversary. The framework
of the statue was made by another famous Frenchman, Alexandre-Gustave
Eiffel, who would later go on to make the famous Eiffel
Tower in Paris.
It soon became clear that with time and money constraints,
the statue would not be completed for the centennial - but
Bartholdi hoped to complete the arm and torch to display for
then. These were installed in 1876, and voyeurs paid $0.50
(a lot of money then) to climb a ladder to see the torch.
By 1878 "my daughter Liberty", as the sculptor lovingly
referred to her, was still a lady late, so the fundraising
committee decided to have a lottery to raise the final funds.
Crossing the Ocean
It wasn't until 1885 that Liberty was finally complete and
ready to face her journey across the Atlantic.
Meanwhile, the Americans had not yet raised the funds to complete
the project and public criticism of the project was high.
Newspaper owner Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant
who found his fame and fortune in the new lands, took control
when he realised that by funding Liberty he could also increase
the circulation of his own newspaper. He sold the idea of
Liberty as a statue of the people and taunted the rich, thereby
popularising his papers amongst the working classes. He promised
to publish the name of every single person who contributed
a cent to the project, no matter how big or small the donation.
The money began to pour in, from piggybanks to high street
banks. By the time the girl Liberty had arrived on America's
shores, the goal of $100,000 had been met.
October 28th 1886 was declared a public holiday, and on this
foggy day, a huge French tricolour flag was unveiled by Senator
William Evarts, to reveal a brilliant display of shiny
golden copper and a giant 1000ft goddess - known as Liberty.
The office boys in the city who were still working unreeled
their spool of ticker tape as the massive parade snaked through
the city, giving rise to the New York ticker-tape parade.
Only 2 women were invited to the official ceremony, prompting
protests from suffragettes who circled the statue shouting
abuse through megaphones.
At the time, this was the tallest structure in New York,
totalling 1000 ft. Although no longer the tallest, Liberty
is very much the visual focus of New York Harbour. In 1903
a tablet was fastened to the pedestal of Liberty, with the
words of a poem, The New Colossus, used as a credo for immigrants
The statue has since become ingrained in American culture,
and images of Liberty were used as a rallying tool to raise
funds for World War I. In 1924, the Statue was declared a
national monument. In 1986, America threw a massive party
for that Statue where President Reagan declared "We are
the keepers of the flame of liberty; we hold it high for the
world to see." A spectacular firework and light show
gave Liberty a 100th birthday she will never forget.