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The Statue of Liberty

Illustration of Statue of Liberty in Liberty Enlightening the World (1886).
Illustration of Statue of Liberty, in Liberty
Enlightening the World, 1886.

A landmark at the entrance to New York Harbor since 1886, the Statue of Liberty is a national and international symbol with multiple meanings. Intended as a sign of friendship between the United States and France and as a monument to political liberty in both nations, it has come to represent a broader vision of freedom and democracy and the promise of a better life for the millions of immigrants who passed by her as they entered the country.

Although the French proposed the statue as a gift to the United States, the project became a joint effort of the two countries, with France responsible for the statue and the Americans for its pedestal and base. The French commissioned sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi to create the statue, and he hoped to complete it for the US centennial in 1876 in recognition of France's assistance in winning the Revolutionary War.

Basing his design on the classical Roman figure of a robed goddess of liberty, Bartholdi named his statue "Liberty Enlightening the World." She holds a torch in her uplifted right hand and a tablet inscribed with the date July 4, 1776 (in Roman numerals), in her left. At her feet is a broken chain, symbolizing her step forward out of bondage into liberty. The seven spikes of her crown represent the seven continents and the seven seas. Made out of copper, Bartholdi's statue is supported by an iron and steel framework designed by Gustave Eiffel, the engineer who later built the Eiffel Tower. Although only the forearm and the torch were ready for display at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Bartholdi completed his sculpture in 1884, when it was formally presented to the American ambassador.

Fundraising for the base and pedestal, designed by Richard Hunt, proved a difficult task. Neither the state nor the federal government was willing to contribute money, and many believed responsibility lay with New York City alone, and not with the nation. By 1885, with the statue waiting in France, donations seemed to have stopped, when Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of The World, stepped in with a successful publicity campaign. Critical of the wealthy for their supposed lack of support, Pulitzer called on ordinary citizens to contribute, and he printed the name of every donor in The World, including the names of many schoolchildren.

In late 1885, the statue was taken apart and shipped to the United States. The next spring, after the base and pedestal were completed, workers reassembled the statue, and, with much celebration, the monument was dedicated on Bedloe's Island on October 28, 1886.

The meaning of the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of refuge and hope for immigrants became more prominent in the years after the dedication. During the fund-raising campaign for the pedestal, a young Jewish poet named Emma Lazarus had written a poem called "The New Colossus." With its reference to the Statue of Liberty as the "Mother of Exiles" and its famous lines welcoming "...your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," the poem became more widely known, and in 1903 it was engraved on a large tablet and placed on the pedestal.

The Statue of Liberty was designated a National Monument in 1924, and Bedloe's Island was renamed Liberty Island in 1956. Now part of a combined monument and museum site that includes Ellis Island, the Statue underwent extensive restoration at its centennial in 1986. The United Nations has designated it a World Heritage Site, acknowledging its meaning to people across the globe.

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Statue of Liberty

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