Statue of Liberty

views updated May 29 2018

Statue of Liberty

Built (work completed) in 1884


Unveiled in 1886

New York Harbor, New York

America's symbol of democracy and welcome to immigrants

"From her beacon-hand / Glows world-wide welcome …"

I n New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, an elegant lady holding a torch to light the way for hundreds of thousands of European immigrants, is a stirring symbol of both the United States and its welcoming embrace of "huddled masses yearning to breathe free." The image of the statue is widely reproduced as a celebration of the American political system and the country's history as a collection of immigrants who together built a new nation on the North American continent. Like written documents such as the Declaration of Independence (1776) declaring that "all men are created equal," the Statue of Liberty has a long history behind its symbolism.

The Statue of Liberty began as a joint vision in the eyes of two Frenchmen: sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834–1904) and politician Éduoard-René Lefebvre de Laboulaye (1811–1883). They met at a dinner party in 1863 or 1865 (authors differ on the date), where Laboulaye sketched out an idea for a statue that would symbolize the role of the United States as a model for the freedom-loving republic, a government in which power lay in the hands of the people, instead of a king, Laboulaye wanted to see in France. At the time, France was governed by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (1808–1873), who had been given dictatorial, or authoritarian, powers in 1852 after a popular election. Laboulaye disliked this type of rule.He and Bartholdi had in mind for France to present as a gift to the United States an enormous statue that on the surface would symbolize the friendship of the two countries during the American War of Independence against Britain (1776–81), when France provided military aid to the American rebels. The deeper meaning of the statue for Laboulaye and Bartholdi would come from the symbolic torchlight that it would cast, showing the French people the way to claim their own liberty by reestablishing a republic in France. The concept of immigration had nothing to do with their plan.

Bartholdi plunged into the project enthusiastically. It would take him almost two decades to complete the statue. He made several trips to the United States to generate enthusiasm for the project, and to launch a drive to raise funds to build a base on which the statue could stand. In visits to New York, Bartholdi noticed a tiny island in New York harbor, just off the southern tip of Manhattan, called Bedloe's Island, that he thought would be the perfect place for the statue. Meanwhile in France, Bartholdi and Laboulaye set about raising funds to make the statue itself.

Years before the project was complete, Laboulaye's political dream was realized. In September 1870, after a disastrous war between France and Prussia (now part of Germany), the emperor, Bonaparte, was deposed by an act of Parliament, and a new republic, called the Third Republic, was declared. But the project for a Statue of Liberty was already advancing.

Building the statue

One of Bartholdi's inspirations for the new statue was the Colossus of Rhodes, which had been built in 282 b.c.e. on

the Mediterranean island of Rhodes to commemorate the successful defense of the island against Greek invaders. That statue had stood at the harbor of the island, with one foot placed on either side of the water passage, so that ships could pass between the legs. The Colossus (the word means "gigantic") became one of the Wonders of the World, alongside the Egyptian pyramids—marvels of construction in ancient history. The Colossus of Rhodes did not last long, however. An earthquake in about 226 b.c.e. caused the statue's legs to buckle and it fell into a heap, eventually to be dismantled and sold as scrap metal hundreds of years later.

Inside Bartholdi's statue was a framework built by Gustav Eiffel (1832–1932), a French engineer who pioneered the construction of very tall structures using iron. Eiffel's most famous structure is the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which has served for over a century as an international symbol of Paris, much as the Statue of Liberty has served as a symbol of New York City.

Bartholdi molded three hundred copper sheets that covered the interior framework; the copper eventually turned into a greenish hue after long exposure to the atmosphere. The face of the statue was modeled after the face of the sculptor's own mother; the arms, one holding a torch and the other clutching a tablet, were modeled after the arms of Bartholdi's wife.

The symbolism of the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was not simply a representation of a woman; it was intended from the very start as a political statement. Consequently, virtually every detail of the statue carried a message, starting with the fact that the statue represented a woman.

For many years before the Statue of Liberty was designed, female figures had been used to represent both countries and political ideas. In North America, Native American princess Pocahontas (c. 1595–1617), reputed to have saved English settler John Smith (1580–1631) from execution at the hands of her father, chief Powhatan (c. 1550–1618), had been used by artists to represent one characteristic of the United States: a new country where Europeans could find refuge, a country untouched by the corruption and history of Europe. In France, similarly, artist Eugene Delacroix (1798–1863) represented the French Revolution (1789) in his painting "Liberty Leading the People" as a woman carrying a rifle in one hand and the flag of France in the other leading a crowd into battle. (The French Revolution overthrew, and eventually executed, King Louis XVI [1754–1793; reigned 1774–93], and established a republic, a form of government in which power rests in the hands of the citizens rather than a monarch.) In the United States, just a few years before the Statue of Liberty project, the U.S. Congress in 1855 had commissioned a statue of a woman, called Lady Freedom, to stand on top of the dome of the U.S. Capitol. Lady Freedom was equipped with a sword and a helmet, representing the notion of a nation that was willing to fight for its democratic form of government.

Not all figures symbolizing the United States were women. The figure of Uncle Sam also was used in newspaper and magazine drawings to represent the United States. In the years before the Statue of Liberty was designed, representations of Uncle Sam found in newspaper cartoons had come to represent the physical figure of President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65). Uncle Sam was, generally, meant to represent ordinary Americans, voting citizens who were the basis of the country's political structure.

The Statue of Liberty was shown wearing a long, flowing robe, resembling the toga of ancient Greece and Rome. In the nineteenth century, the worlds of ancient Greece and Rome represented an idealistic time when the idea of a republic and democracy, or government by popular vote, were first conceived and implemented. Lady Liberty's gown was intended to evoke the ideals of that ancient era. Modern copies of ancient Greek and Roman statues had become popular throughout Europe in the eighteenth century as part of the movement called the Renaissance, or rebirth, of classical traditions in the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries. Renaissance thinkers examined classical traditions not only in art but also in politics, substituting some of the philosophical principles of ancient Greece and Rome for the religious ideals of the Bible.

In her left hand, the statue clutches a tablet, on which is inscribed "1776." The date refers to the year in which the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, declaring that Britain's colonies in North America intended to become an independent nation, based on the belief that "all men are created equal" and that when governments fail to uphold mankind's natural rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" citizens have a natural right to overthrow that government and establish a new one. The tablet in Lady Liberty's arms also has a larger, religious significance: It evokes the memory of the biblical story of Moses carrying God's ten commandments written on a tablet down from Mount Sinai.

In her other hand, Lady Liberty holds a torch, symbolizing the light that the United States holds up for the world—and especially France, in the opinion of Bartholdi—showing the ideal path to follow in politics. On her head, the statue wears a spiked crown, called a diadem, symbolizing the rays of the sun. The crown is a reference to the Colossus of Rhodes, which was intended in ancient times as a statue of Helios, the sun god. Finally, at her feet, lay broken shackles (metal bands to hold arms and legs with chains), representing the political repression of Europe from which the United States had broken free.

In 1871, Bartholdi wrote in a letter to Laboulaye: "I will try to glorify the Republic and Liberty over there, in the hope that someday I will find it again here [in France]."

Setting up the statue

Bartholdi finished work on the statue in France in 1884. The entire structure was then dismantled and packed into two hundred cases to be sent by ship to New York. There, however, loomed a potential problem: how to pay for the statue's base? The size of the statue meant that it needed a large, and very heavy, pedestal to anchor it to the ground. Bartholdi's project had not generated much interest in the United States, and the government was not willing to pay the cost of building the pedestal. Finally, a newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer (1847–1911; see entry in volume 2), came to the rescue. Pulitzer, an immigrant

from Hungary, published the New York World, a popular newspaper read by working people, and he used his newspaper to solicit public donations for building the pedestal. One hundred thousand contributors raised $120,000 in just five months to pay for the pedestal.

Part of the fund-raising drive included an art auction in 1883, and a New York writer and poet, Emma Lazarus (1849–1887; see entry in volume 2), contributed a poem to the cause. It was titled "The New Colossus." Lazarus, who was Jewish, had become interested in the plight of Jews in Russia who were victims, in 1880 and 1881, of pogroms, or massacres of Jews that were permitted by the government of Russia. The attacks caused many Jews to wish to flee to a safer place. Lazarus herself advocated that Jews move to Palestine and reestablish the ancient state of Israel. In practice, however, large numbers of Jews from eastern Europe, along with other poor Europeans from Italy, Greece, and other countries of southern Europe, were immigrating to the United States. Lazarus was active in organizations set up to help Jewish immigrants adjust to their new land. Her poem was barely noticed.

Thanks to the popular fund-raising, money was found to build the pedestal, designed by prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt (1828–1895). When complete, the pedestal was 89 feet high. It included 24,000 tons of concrete, the largest mass of concrete made at the time.

Finally, on October 28, 1886, more than a million people turned out on a rainy, foggy day to watch a parade in Manhattan marking the unveiling of the statue. President Grover Cleveland (1837–1908; served 1885–89 and 1893–97) came to New York for the ceremony. In his speech, he spoke of freedom and democracy, but never mentioned immigration.

Six years after Lady Liberty was set up on Bedloe's Island, the U.S. government used another island in New York Harbor, Ellis Island, as the site of a new center for processing immigrants. There, within sight of the Statue of Liberty, millions of people first came ashore to undergo health checks before being admitted to the United States. The flood of immigrants passing through Ellis Island between its opening and 1924 (when a new U.S. immigration law severely restricted immigration) represented the largest single flow of immigrants in the country's history. The realization that many of the newcomers were poor, were not Protestants (many were Catholics, from southern Europe, and others were Jews), and had darker skin than earlier immigrants from Britain and northern Europe, was not pleasing to many. Judge magazine in 1890 published a cartoon in which the Statue of Liberty was depicted as cringing as two ships dumped loads of garbage onto her base—symbolizing the poor immigrants.

In 1895, American novelist and poet Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836–1907) wrote a poem about immigrants titled

"Unguarded Gates," by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Wide open and unguarded stand our gates,
Named of the four winds, North, South, East and West;
Portals that lead to an enchanted land
Of cities, forests, fields of living gold,
Vast prairies, lordly summits touched with snow,
Majestic rivers sweeping proudly past
The Arab's date-palm and the Norseman's pine—
A realm wherein are fruits of every zone,
Airs of all climes, for lo! throughout the year
The red rose blossoms somewhere—a rich land,
A later Eden planted in the wilds,
With not an inch of earth within its bound
But if a slave's foot press it sets him free.
Here, it is written, Toil shall have its wage,
And Honor honor, and the humblest man
Stand level with the highest in the law.
Of such a land have men in dungeons dreamed,
And with the vision brightening in their eyes
Gone smiling to the fagot and the sword.
Wide open and unguarded stand our gates,
And through them presses a wild motley throng—
Men from the Volga and the Tartar steppes,
Featureless figures of the Hoang-Ho,
Malayan, Scythian, Teuton, Kelt, and Slav,
Flying the Old World's poverty and scorn;
These bringing with them unknown gods and rites,
Those, tiger passions, here to stretch their claws.
In street and alley what strange tongues are loud,
Accents of menace alien to our air,
Voices that once the Tower of Babel knew!
O Liberty, white Goddess! Is it well
To leave the gates unguarded? On thy breast
Fold Sorrow's children, soothe the hurts of fate,
Lift the down-trodden, but with hand of steel
Stay those who to thy sacred portals come
To waste the gifts of freedom. Have a care
Lest from thy brow the clustered stars be torn
And trampled in the dust. For so of old
The thronging Goth and Vandal trampled Rome,
And where the temples of the Caesars stood
The lean wolf unmolested made her lair.

"Unguarded Gates." Aldrich appealed to the symbolic Statue of Liberty to be wary of immigrants, in case they should not honor America's commitment to freedom and instead destroy the country, much as invading barbarians had attacked the majesty of ancient Rome. For Aldrich, the Statue of Liberty was not a welcoming lamp for immigrants so much as a symbol of a country that might be changed for the worse by newcomers who were not white and might not share the values represented by the Statue of Liberty.

"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

The Statue assumes her place as a symbol

Not until 1903 did a New York philanthropist, or a person who gives away money to benefit society, and friend of Emma Lazarus come across the nearly forgotten "The New Colossus" in a bookshop and arranged to have the last five lines of the poem engraved on a plaque and attached to the base of the statue. Only then did the Statue of Liberty take on her role as a symbol of both American political freedoms and America's welcoming arms extended to immigrants. The poem that Lazarus had contributed two decades earlier to help pay for the pedestal of the statue was reproduced on a plaque. Titled "The New Colossus," the poem turned the Statue of Liberty into something quite different from the conception of Aldrich in 1895. Instead of a symbol of an America about to be polluted by immigrants, Lazarus's poem turned the Statue of Liberty into a symbol of refuge and hope.

In the century since Lazarus's poem was placed on its base, the Statue of Liberty has come to symbolize the ideals of the United States, as it was originally intended to do by Bartholdi. It also serves as a beacon to refugees wishing to flee their homelands and come to the United States to be free of oppression and persecution, as well as to make a fortune.

As a symbol of the American form of government, however, the Statue of Liberty has always enjoyed an important place in American life. Images of the statue have been widely reproduced, and were everywhere during the 1976 celebrations marking two centuries of independence for the United States of America. The Statue of Liberty has also fulfilled its original mission far outside the United States. In 1989, for example, student demonstrators demanding more civil liberties in Beijing, the capital of China, created a replica of the Statue of Liberty to symbolize their protest. It was a moment that demonstrated how the power of an idea can transcend whatever differences may separate one people from another in space and time.

—James L. Outman

For More Information


Aldrich, Thomas Bailey. Unguarded and Other Poems. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1895.

Allen, Leslie. Liberty: The Statue and the American Dream. New York: Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Foundation with the cooperation of the National Geographic Society, 1985.

Holland, F. Ross. Idealists, Scoundrels, and the Lady: An Insider's View of the Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Project. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

Merriam, Eve. Emma Lazarus, Woman with a Torch. New York: Citadel Press, 1956.

Trachtenberg, Marvin. The Statue of Liberty. New York: Viking Press, 1976.


Dowling, Claudia Glenn. "The Landing of a Landmark; From French-man's Folly to American Icon." Life (July 1986): p. 50.

Galante, Pierre. "The Man Behind the Statue of Liberty" (Auguste Bartholdi). Good Housekeeping (July 1986): p. 101.

Web Sites

Fulford, James. "Immigration Myths (contd.): The Statue of Immigration, or Liberty Inviting the World." (accessed on March 26, 2004).

Liberty State Park: The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. (accessed on March 26, 2004).

Smith, John. "Letter to Queen Anne Regarding Pocahontas." (accessed on March 26, 2004).

"Statue of Liberty National Monument." National Park Service. (accessed on March 26, 2004).

Statue of Liberty

views updated May 21 2018

Statue of Liberty

While attending a dinner party in France in 1865, French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834–1904) and his host, French scholar Édouard-René Lefebvre de Laboulaye (1811–1883), came up with an idea to give the United States a monument to commemorate the country's first centennial (one hundred years) as a free nation.

Construction of the monument began in 1875, and in 1877, America began fundraising efforts to collect the money needed to build a pedestal (foundation) on which a 450,000-pound (204,300-kilogram) copper and steel statue would stand. American architect Richard Morris Hunt (1828–1885) was hired to design and build the pedestal. The cement foundation weighed 27,000 tons (24,489 metric tons).

Lady Liberty debuts

Building of the statue was completed in Paris, France, in June 1884, but the pedestal was still a work in progress. Early in 1885, with the completion of the pedestal, “Liberty Enlightening the World” was dismantled and shipped to America in 350 pieces. The statue, which became known as Lady Liberty, arrived on Liberty Island in New York and was placed on Ellis Island , the primary immigration port for European immigrants . The pedestal and statue were assembled in 1886, ten years after the original target date. On October 28 of that year, President Grover Cleveland (1837–1908; served 1885–89 and 1893–97) accepted the Statue of Liberty and dedicated her in an official ceremony.

Jewish poet Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) composed a sonnet (a fourteen-line lyric poem, written using a distinct rhythm and rhyme) to be awarded to the highest bidder at an art auction. The poem, called “The New Colossus,” reflected Lazarus's understanding of the role America played in the hopes of immigrants (people who move permanently to another country) in the late nineteenth century. Written in 1883, “The New Colossus” was engraved on a plaque and attached to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903.

Fun facts about Lady Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was a statue of impressive size in its day and remains so in the twenty-first century. She measures 111 feet, 1 inch (33.86 meters) from her heel to the top of her head. On her crown are seven spikes, representative of the seven continents or seven seas.

At a windspeed of 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) per hour, the statue sways up to 3 inches (7.62 centimeters), while her torch sways 5 inches (12.7 centimeters).

The tablet in the statue's left hand is inscribed with the date July 4, 1776, in Roman numerals. This is the day America declared its independence from Britain.

Emma Lazarus's Poetry

Long before she penned “The New Colossus,” Lazarus was writing poetry. In 1868, she sent a copy of her first book of poetry (which her father had published) to Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), one of the country's most famous essayists, poets, and philosophers. The two began a lifelong friendship. Lazarus visited Emerson at his home in Concord, Massachusetts , several times.

Lazarus's second book of poems was published in 1871 to much critical praise. Throughout the decade, she published many poems and essays in popular magazines. By 1882, more than fifty of her poems and translations of others' poems had been printed in these periodicals. Her best reviews came in 1881, upon publication of her translation of the works of German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine (1797–1856). Lazarus identified with Heine's expression of his Jewish identity. Both writers felt the effect of their Jewish backgrounds on their pursuit of artistic creativity.

The Statue of Liberty was declared a national monument in 1924.

Statue of Liberty

views updated May 11 2018


STATUE OF LIBERTY, originally named "Liberty Enlightening the World," was a gift from France, unveiled on 28 October 1886 at Bedloe's Island (later Liberty Island) in New York Harbor. There, President Grover Cleveland accepted it as a long-delayed commemoration of a century of American independence. Rising 151 feet above an 89-foot pedestal, it was then the tallest structure in New York City.

The French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi had designed the statue with assistance from the great engineer Gustave Eiffel. It was then shipped from Paris in sections. The project's sponsors were a group of French liberals who tirelessly promoted the United States as a model of popular government rooted in stability and order and wanted France to follow the American example. Accordingly, Bartholdi's gigantic classical goddess carries a tablet representing the American Declaration of Independence. Yet she faces outward, stolid, strong, and unmovable as beams from her upraised lamp radiate across the sea.

The history of the Statue of Liberty is largely a story of its growing centrality and importance among the cherished symbols of the American nation. At first it differed chiefly in size and location from numerous other classical goddesses who crowded the nineteenth century's repertory of symbols. But size and location were crucially important. She was an overwhelming presence at the entry to America's greatest city. As more vaporous goddesses faded in the harsh light of modernity, the great statue became the centerpiece of a magical American place, recognizable everywhere through postcards and magazine covers, with the New York City skyline rising behind her.

To many Americans she also conveyed a profoundly personal message. The millions of immigrants who were landing at New York City in the early twentieth century saw in this majestic figure their first intimation of a new life. In her uplifted arm they read a message of welcome that said, "This vast republic wants me!" By 1910 public schools in some large cities were reenacting in pageants (with a teacher as the statue) the gathering of immigrants into an inclusive nation.

The use of the statue to identify America with an active promotion of freedom received further emphasis in the Liberty Bond drives and parades of World War I and from the ideological mobilization of the United States against totalitarian regimes during and after World War II.

In domestic affairs, embattled images of the statue also energized campaigns for civil liberties and women's rights.

In the mid-1980s, a fabulously successful fund-raising campaign led by Chrysler executive Lee Iacocca produced a deep restoration of the statue, capped in October 1986 by a four-day extravaganza celebrating its centennial.


Dillon, Wilton S., and Neil G. Kotler, eds. The Statue of Liberty Revisited: Making a Universal Symbol. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.

Liberty: The French-American Statue in Art and History. New York: Harper and Row, 1986.

Trachtenberg, Marvin. The Statue of Liberty. New York: Penguin Books, 1977.


See alsoFrance, Relations with ; New York City .

Statue of Liberty

views updated May 21 2018

Statue of Liberty Large, copper statue of a woman, standing on Liberty Island, New York City harbour. A symbol of US democracy, it was a gift from France, and was built (1876) to commemorate the centenary of US independence. It was designed by Bartholdi on an iron framework designed and built by Gustave Eiffel. The statue's official name is Liberty Enlightening the World. It stands 45m (150ft) tall to the top of the torch in the goddess's raised right hand.

Liberty, Statue of

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