A joyous mood prevailed in New York City on October 28, 1886,
despite the wet autumnal weather. Indeed, the city was so thrilled it
threw the first ticker tape parade, though the fireworks scheduled
for the evening had to be postponed due to the weather. The
occasion? The dedication ceremony for the Statue of Liberty, an
event big enough to merit the presence of President Grover
Cleveland himself. Indeed, even in 1886, Americans understood
how important this massive new statue would be.
Today, the Statue of Liberty is among the most iconic structures in
the entire world. Her visage appears on American currency, tiny
versions of her are sold in shops across the city, and practically any
movie or television show set in New York includes a shot of Lady
Liberty. Millions of people take the ferry to Liberty Island every
year, but even those who have never been to the United States
would likely recognize what may be the world's most famous statue.
Naturally, like many architectural wonders, part of the Statue of
Liberty's fame is due to its sheer size. At 111 feet, 6 inches from her
size 879 feet to her crown, the Statue on its own is massive, but
when you include the pedestal and its foundation, as well as Lady
Liberty's gold-sheathed torch, she towers some 305 feet high.
Originally made completely of copper and iron, the Statue of
Liberty weighs some 225 tons, all of which, in a high wind, can be
seen to sway several inches.
The Statue's full name, "Liberty Enlightening the World," was
admirably prescient; for 16 years after its dedication, it served as a
lighthouse under the auspices of the US Lighthouse Board. Lady
Liberty would later enlighten viewers in a more metaphoric sense,
as millions of immigrants hailed her as the first sight of their new
homeland on their way to Ellis Island.
While the Statue has been closed to visitors several times
throughout its history, most recently in order to repair damages
sustained during Hurricane Sandy, it has been open to the public
since July 4, 2013, including the Statue's crown, a 354-stair climb
from the pedestal. Thanks to modern technology, however, it's
possible to see the view from the Statue anywhere in the world via
Of course, the Statue did not arrive fully formed off the coast of
New York. Instead, her story begins in 1865, when a Frenchman
named Edouard de Laboulaye first floated the idea of asking his
country to construct a statue in honor of the approaching centennial
anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and
the birth of the United States.
By 1870, Laboulaye had found a sculptor, Auguste Bartholdi, a man
who had become intrigued by large-scale monuments following a
tour of Egypt. However, Bartholdi's first attempt, a massive
lighthouse intended for use along the Suez Canal, failed to
materialize due to a lack of funding, and after joining Laboulaye in
his mission to create a colossal sculpture for the US centennial, the
two quickly found that money was again the main obstacle.
Luckily, a transatlantic fundraising project proved highly
successful, especially after Bartholdi selected what was then called
Bedloe's Island as the site for the statue and drummed up support
among Americans. About 400,000 francs and 102,000 dollars were
eventually raised. The American funds financed the construction of
the statue’s pedestal, and were amassed with the help of newspaper
magnate Joseph Pulitzer's editorials and an art and literary auction
that included contributions from luminaries such as poet Emma
The Statue itself was first constructed in France under the direction
of engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, and after its completion, it
was sent across the Atlantic in 350 pieces to be reconstructed over
the course of four months. Its dedication finally took place in 1886,
a decade after the centennial it was intended to celebrate.
As with any structure, in the years since its completion, the Statue
of Liberty has required considerable maintenance. Indeed, 20 years
after its dedication, Congress was already planning on painting
Lady Liberty in response to the natural green patina that had formed
on her copper surface. While Congress eventually decided to leave
the patina alone, other maintenance was far more necessary. By the
1980s, damage caused by 100 years of coastal weather required a
full restoration, during which crews corrected problems like the
misplacement of the Statue's head and shoulders while shoring up
the iron skeleton within by adding steel supports.
However, the centennial restoration, which required the Statue’s
closure from 1984 to 1986, was not the last time major repairs were
needed. Hurricane Sandy caused $77 million in damages on Liberty
and Ellis Islands, and the Statue was closed for another year.
Experts worry that climate change will cause further damage to the
Statue, especially if the sea level rises at the rate of the most
pessimistic projections. While the National Park Service has already
made many changes to increase Liberty Island's sustainability, it
appears that the engineering work to keep the Statue of Liberty
standing tall may never be over.