STATUE OF LIBERTY
The Statue of Liberty National Monument officially celebrated her 100th birthday on October 28, 1986. The people of France gave the Statue to the people of the United States over 125 years ago in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution. Over the years, the Statue of Liberty’s symbolism has grown to include freedom and democracy as well as this international friendship.
Sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design a sculpture with the year 1876 in mind for completion, to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. The Statue was a joint effort between America and France, and it was agreed upon that the American people were to build the pedestal and the French people were responsible for the Statue and its assembly in the United States. However, lack of funding was a problem on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In France, public fees, various forms of entertainment and a lottery were among the methods used to raise funds. In the United States, benefit theatrical events, art exhibitions, auctions and prize fights assisted in providing needed funds.
In France, Bartholdi required the assistance of an engineer to address structural issues associated with designing such a colossal copper sculpture. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Eiffel Tower, was commissioned to design the massive iron pylon and secondary skeletal framework that allows the Statue’s copper skin to move independently yet stand upright.
Meanwhile, in America, fundraising for the pedestal was going particularly slowly, so Joseph Pulitzer (noted for the Pulitzer Prize) opened up the editorial pages of his newspaper, The World, to support the effort. Pulitzer used his newspaper to criticize both the rich, who had failed to finance the pedestal construction, and the middle class, who were content to rely upon the wealthy to provide the funds. Pulitzer’s campaign of harsh criticism was successful in motivating the people of America to donate.
Financing for the pedestal was completed in August, 1885, and pedestal construction was finished in April of 1886. The Statue was completed in France in July, 1884, and arrived in New York Harbor in June of 1885 onboard the French frigate Isere. For travel, the Statue was separated into 350 individual pieces and packed in 214 crates. The Statue was re-assembled on her new pedestal in four months’ time. On October 28, 1886, the dedication of the Statue of Liberty took place in front of thousands of spectators. She was a centennial gift ten years late.
The story of the Statue of Liberty and her island has been one of change. The Statue was placed upon a granite pedestal inside the courtyard of the star-shaped walls of Fort Wood, which had been completed for the War of 1812. The United States Lighthouse Board was responsible for the operation of the Statue of Liberty until 1901, after which the care and operation of the Statue was placed under the War Department. A Presidential Proclamation declared Fort Wood—and the Statue of Liberty with it—a National Monument on October 15, 1924, and the monument’s boundary was set at the outer edge of Fort Wood. In 1933, the care and administration of the National Monument was transferred to the National Park Service. On September 7, 1937, jurisdiction was enlarged to encompass all of Bedloe’s Island and, in 1956, the island’s name was changed to Liberty Island. On May 11, 1965, Ellis Island was also transferred to the National Park Service and became part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.
In May of 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed Lee Iacocca to head up a private-sector effort to restore the Statue of Liberty. Fundraising began for the $87 million restoration under a public-private partnership between the National Park Service and the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation Inc.—to date the most successful public-private partnership in American history. In 1984, at the start of the Statue’s restoration, the United Nations designated the Statue of Liberty as a World Heritage Site. On July 5, 1986, the newly restored Statue reopened to the public during Liberty Weekend, which celebrated her centennial.
Text courtesy of the National Park Service