America probably could not have won its freedom from the British during the American Revolution without the help of the French. France provided arms, ships, money and men to the American colonies. Some Frenchmen - most notably the Marquis de Lafayette, a close friend of George Washington - even became high-ranking officers in the American army. It was an alliance of respect and friendship that the French would not forget.
Almost 100 years later, in 1865, after the end of the American Civil War, several French intellectuals, who were opposed to the oppressive regime of Napoleon III, were at a small dinner party. They discussed their admiration for America's success in establishing a democratic government and abolishing slavery at the end of the civil war. The dinner was hosted by Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye. Laboulaye was a scholar, jurist, abolitionist and a leader of the "liberals," the political group dedicated to establishing a French republican government.
During the evening, talk turned to the close historic ties and love of liberty the two nations shared. Laboulaye noted that there was "a genuine flow of sympathy" between the two nations and he called France and America, "the two sisters."
As he continued speaking, reflecting on the centennial of American independence only 11 years in the future, Laboulaye commented, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if people in France gave the United States a great monument as a lasting memorial to independence and thereby showed that the French government was also dedicated to the idea of human liberty?"
Laboulaye's question struck a responsive chord in one of his guests, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, a successful, 31-year-old sculptor from Colmar, a town in the eastern province of Alsace, France.
Years later, recalling the dinner, Bartholdi wrote that Laboulaye's idea "interested me so deeply that it remained fixed in my memory." So was sown the seed of inspiration that would become the Statue of Liberty.
The sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, was born into a well-to-do family in Colmar, France on August 2, 1834.
Bartholdi's father, a civil servant and prosperous landowner, died when the child was only two years old, so he was raised by his stern, possessive mother, Charlotte.
Bartholdi began his career as a painter, but it was as a sculptor that he was to express his true spirit and gain his greatest fame. His first commission for a public monument came to him at the young age of 18. It was for a statue of one of Colmar's native sons, General Jean Rapp, a leader of Napoléon Bonaparte's army. Even at 18, Bartholdi loved bigness. The statue of the general was 12 feet tall and was created in Bartholdi's studio, where the ceiling was only one inch higher. The statue established his reputation as a sculptor of note and led to many commissions for similar, oversized, patriotic works.
But it was a trip to Egypt that shifted Bartholdi's artistic perspective from simply grand to colossal. The overwhelming size and mysterious majesty of the Pyramids and the Sphinx were awesome to the enthusiastic young Bartholdi. He wrote, "Their kindly and impassive glance seems to ignore the present and to be fixed upon an unlimited future."
In 1870, with the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War, Bartholdi served as a major in the French army in his hometown of Colmar. When the Germans annexed the entire Alsace region, making its residents German citizens, the reality of the word "liberty" took on a new, personal meaning for Bartholdi.
In time, France's Third Republic, would emerge out of the ruins of the Franco-Prussian War. Meanwhile, partially as propaganda to advance the cause of those who were seeking the creation of a French Republic, Laboulaye suggested that Bartholdi should travel to America.
In recalling his conversation with Laboulaye several years later, Bartholdi wrote: "'Go to see that country,' said he [Laboulaye] to me. 'Propose to our friends over there to make with us a monument, a common work, in remembrance of the ancient friendship of France and the United States. If ... you find a plan that will excite public enthusiasm, we are convinced that it will be successful on both continents, and we will do a work that will have far-reaching moral effect.'"
Bartholdi responded, "I will try to glorify the Republic and Liberty over there, in the hope that someday I will find it again here."
So Bartholdi was now to become a salesman. Armed with letters of introduction from Laboulaye to some of America's most influential men, Bartholdi sailed to New York in 1871.
Writing of his entrance into New York Harbor, he said:
"The picture that is presented to the view when one arrives in New York is marvelous, when, after some days of voyaging, in the pearly radiance of a beautiful morning is revealed the magnificent spectacle of those immense cities [Brooklyn and Manhattan], of those rivers extending as far as the eye can reach, festooned with masts and flags; when one awakes, so to speak, in the midst of that interior sea covered with vessels... it is thrilling. It is, indeed, the New World, which appears in its majestic expanse, with the ardor of its glowing life."
New York Harbor was the perfect locale, he added, since it was "where people get their first view of the New World." Continuing, he said, "I've found an admirable spot. It is Bedloe's Island, in the middle of the bay... The island belongs to the government; it's on national territory, belonging to all the states, just opposite the Narrows, which are, so to speak, the gateway to America."
Intelligent, warm, persuasive and charming, Bartholdi impressed the many prominent Americans he met, including President Ulysses S. Grant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Horace Greeley and Senator Charles Sumner.
His trip across America filled him with amazement. He wrote, "Everything in America is big ... Here, even the peas are big."
Everywhere he went, he enthusiastically promoted the sketch and a model he carried of the statue as it would appear on the island in New York Harbor. Americans seemed receptive to the idea of a statue dedicated to "Liberty Enlightening the World" (the official name for the statue), but no one was willing to make a commitment of money or a building site.
Back in France, Laboulaye was waiting, until the Third Republic became a reality, to publicize the idea of the statue. Upon his return, Bartholdi completed other projects, all the while refining his ideas and design for "the American statue."
In 1875, with the establishment of the Third Republic, Laboulaye and Bartholdi agreed that "the lady's" time had come. Because the project would be extremely expensive, they decided its cost should be shared: France would pay for the statue; America would pay for its pedestal and foundation. A fund-raising committee called the Franco-American Union was formed with members from both nations.
Elaborate fund-raising events were staged, but money was slow in coming. Enough was collected to begin work on the statue, but the goal of completing it in time for America's 100th anniversary was impossible.
Bartholdi selected Gaget, Gauthier and Company as the foundry where the sculpture was to be constructed. Its craftsmen were experts in the art of repoussé, a technique for creating sculptural forms by hammering sheet metal inside molds. Lighter than casting metal, repoussé was the only method available that would allow such a monumental work to be shipped overseas. The intricate skeleton for the statue was designed by famed engineer Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, already known for his brilliant iron railroad bridges and later celebrated for the Eiffel Tower.
Bartholdi was chosen as an official French representative to the International Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. With three major sculptures on view at the Exhibition, Bartholdi's name was becoming known in America.
The 30-foot arm of Liberty traveled to Philadelphia in 1876 as well. For 50 cents, a visitor could climb a steel ladder to the balcony around the torch. A good deal of enthusiasm was generated for the project, since Liberty would be the first statue one could climb inside.
When Liberty's gleaming copper head appeared at the fair, she was a sensation. She wasn't sensational enough, however, to solve the never-ending problem of raising the money to complete her construction.
Fund-Raising in France
Someone with the Franco-American Union had an inspiration: They would hold a lottery. Since very few contributions were coming from France's moneyed elite, the idea of engaging the public's attention with a lottery was a brilliant one. The prizes were highly coveted and valuable, including two works by Bartholdi himself.
Additional funds were raised in a manner worthy of contemporary merchandising techniques: a signed and numbered collection of clay models of the statue were sold in France and America. By the end of 1879, about 250,000 francs (approximately $750,000 U.S.) had been raised for the statue's construction. Enough, most people thought, to complete the work.
At last, in June 1884, Liberty received her final touches. (In May 1883, Laboulaye died of a heart ailment, never to see his dream come to life.) She was dedicated with much pomp and circumstance by French Prime Minister Jules Ferry and Ambassador Morton. But when Bartholdi invited the celebrating party to join him in climbing the statue's steps, few accepted the challenge.
Until the spring of 1885, when she was dismantled for the long voyage to America, Liberty remained in Paris, the hostess to thousands of French visitors.
Fund-Raising in America
While the statue was nearing completion in France, little was happening on the American side.
The American press continued to be critical of the project, especially of its cost. They couldn't understand why the pedestal should cost as much as the statue itself. Congress rejected a bill appropriating $100,000 for the base. New York approved a grant of $50,000, but the expenditure was vetoed by the governor.
Many Americans outside of New York considered it New York's statue. "Let New York pay for it," they said, while America's newly rich, self-made millionaires were saying and contributing nothing. The American half of the Franco-American Union, led by William M. Evarts, held the usual fund-raising events, but public apathy was almost as monumental as the statue itself.
By 1884, after years of fund-raising, only $182,491 had been collected and $179,624 had been spent. It took the intervention of Joseph Pulitzer and the power of the media to make a difference.
Pulitzer to the Rescue
Joseph Pulitzer was a Hungarian immigrant who fought in the Civil War, became a successful journalist and married a wealthy woman. In 1883, he bought a financial newspaper called the World; he already owned the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. When he heard that the Statue of Liberty was about to die from lack of funds, he saw his chance to take advantage of three distinct opportunities: to raise funds for the statue, to increase his newspaper's circulation and to blast the rich for their selfishness.
Pulitzer set the fund-raising goal of the World at $100,000. In its pages he taunted the rich (thereby increasing the paper's appeal among working-class people) and firmly planted the notion that the statue was a monument not just for New York City but, indeed, for all of America.
Perhaps Pulitzer's cleverest ploy was the promise to publish the name of every single contributor in the pages of the World, no matter how small the contribution. The editorial that opened the fund-raising campaign set its tone. He wrote: "The World is the people's paper and it now appeals to the people to come forward and raise the money [for the statue's pedestal]." The statue, he said, was paid for by "the masses of the French people. Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America." The circulation of the World increased by almost 50,000 copies.
African American newspapers joined in the effort, encouraging their readers to contribute to a monument that would, in part, commemorate the end of slavery. So the money poured in, as single-dollar donations from grandmothers and pennies from the piggybanks of schoolchildren.
On June 15, 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrived at Bedloe's Island inside 214 wooden packing crates.
On August 11, 1885, the front page of the World proclaimed, "ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS!" The goal had been reached, and slightly exceeded, thanks to more than 120,000 contributions.
The Place on Which She Stands
The architect for Liberty's pedestal, Richard Morris Hunt, was a highly respected and popular designer of expensive homes. He designed an 89-foot-high pedestal that would sit upon a concrete foundation that would appear to grow up from within the 11-pointed, star-shaped walls of the existing Fort Wood. His fee for the project was $1,000, which he returned to the fund to reassemble the statue.
General Charles P. Stone was the chief engineer in charge of the entire construction project, including the foundation, the pedestal and the reassembly of the statue. Liberty's foundation alone required 24,000 tons of concrete, the largest single mass ever poured at that time. It measures 52 feet, 10 inches in height. At the bottom, it is 91 feet, and at the top, it is 65 feet. The pedestal rises 89 feet above the foundation.
The Statue of Liberty began to rise over her new home in America in May of 1886. It would take six months to mount the statue to her base.
The Dream Accomplished
On October 25, 1886, Bartholdi and his wife, accompanied by Viscount Ferdinand-Marie de Lesseps, chairman of the Franco-American Union, arrived in America. They were greeted by the American Committee and Joseph Pulitzer. At Bedloe's Island, surrounded by newspaper reporters recording his words for posterity, Bartholdi simply said, "The dream of my life is accomplished."
The Unveiling of "the Lady"
Unveiling day, October 28, 1886, was declared a public holiday. The rainy, foggy day could not dampen the spirits of the more than 1 million people who lined New York's streets, draped with red, white and blue and French tricolor bunting, to watch a parade of more than 20,000 pass by. Wall Street was the only area of the city working on the day of Liberty's unveiling. The New York Times reported that as the parade passed by, the office boys "from a hundred windows began to unreel the spools of tape that record the fateful messages of the 'ticker.' In a moment the air was white with curling streamers." And so the famous New York ticker-tape parade was born.
Dignitaries from both nations were in attendance. Representing America were President Grover Cleveland and his cabinet as well as the governor of New York and his staff. The French ambassador attended, accompanied by the French Committee. And, most ironically, members of some of America's wealthiest families - the same families who had not contributed a single cent to the statue's pedestal - now jockeyed for seats of prominence. New York, reported the World, "was one vast cheer."
Out on the water, the fog rolled in and out. The harbor teemed with ships of all sizes. Bartholdi stood alone in the head of the statue. He was to pull a cord that would drop the French tricolor veil from the face of the statue. For his cue, Bartholdi was to watch for a signal from a boy on the ground below, who would wave a handkerchief. The signal would come when Senator William M. Evarts, considered one of the more talented orators of his time, finished his presentation speech.
Evarts began his speech, stopped momentarily to take a breath, and the boy, thinking the speech was over, gave Bartholdi the signal. Bartholdi pulled the cord, revealing the statue's gleaming copper face to the world. Whistles blasted, guns roared, bands played ... and Evarts sat down.
When it was President Cleveland's turn to speak, he said, "We will not forget that Liberty has made here her home, nor shall her chosen altar be neglected."
Liberty's First 100 Years
At the time of the Statue of Liberty's dedication, she was the tallest structure in New York, reaching a total height of 305 feet. It wasn't until 1899 that she was overtaken by Saint Paul's Building, which rose to 310 feet. Lady Liberty remains the visual and spiritual center of New York Harbor.
In 1903, one of the most memorable changes to the statue occurred without fanfare or publicity. A bronze tablet was fastened to an interior wall of the pedestal. Cast as a part of the plaque was a poem written in 1883 that has become the credo for thousands of immigrants coming to America.
The poem, "The New Colossus," was written by Emma Lazarus to help raise funds for the construction of the statue's pedestal. Today, many people think of the statue and poem as inseparable.
In 1916, the World once again raised its voice to raise funds on behalf of the statue. This time, the goal was to floodlight the statue at night. The paper's readers contributed $30,000 and the torch was also redesigned in glass.
From the time of the Revolutionary War, the female figure Columbia was generally regarded as the symbol for America, but the statue's increased visibility and popularity during World War I easily shifted America's symbolic loyalties. Liberty's features appeared everywhere; she became a kind of female equivalent to Uncle Sam. To help finance U.S. participation in the war, the Treasury Department authorized using the statue as a rallying symbol on posters designed to raise funds. The government sold about $15 billion worth of bonds, equal to about half the cost of World War I.
President Calvin Coolidge declared the Statue of Liberty to be a national monument on October 15, 1924. In 1933, the National Park Service took over its administration and maintenance.
The French-American Committee for the Restoration of the Statue of Liberty was established in 1981. Following an initial diagnostic report for the NPS, it was determined that substantial work needed to be done. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation was then formed to raise funds and oversee any needed restoration. As in the past, private contributions were the backbone of the foundation's success: More than $295 million was collected; $86 million went directly to the statue's restoration.
On July 4, 1986, America threw a special birthday party for the Statue of Liberty. With a golden sunset glowing in the background, President Ronald Reagan declared, "We are the keepers of the flame of liberty; we hold it high for the world to see." Later, the president pressed a button that sent a laser beam across the water toward the statue. Slowly, dramatically, majestically, a light show unveiled Liberty and her new torch, while spectacular fireworks exploded across the sky. With an entire nation watching - along with 1.5 billion television viewers around the world - and thousands of people filled with gratitude, one wonders how Bartholdi and Laboulaye might have felt as Liberty enlightened the world that historic night.