“The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” (French: La Liberté éclairant le monde) is a colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in the middle of New York Harbor. It was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States and is recognized as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy.
Here are the facts you ought to know:
- designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (inner framework designed and created by Gustave Eiffel)
- dedicated on October 28, 1886
- height – the base to the tip of the torch: 305 feet, 6 inches (about 93 m)
- height – heel to the tip of the torch: 151 feet 1 inch (about 46 meters)
- height – heel to the top of her head: 111 feet, 6 inches (about 34 m)
- height of the face: over 8 feet (about 2.5 m)
- waistline: 35 feet (about 10.5 m)
- total weight: 450,000 lbs (225 tons)
- weight of copper: 62,000 lbs.(31 tons)
- weight of framework: 250,000 lbs. (125 tons)
- thickness of copper sheeting: 3/32 of an inch (2.4 mm), or the thickness of two pennies placed together
- wind Sway: 50 mph winds cause the Statue to sway up to 3 inches and the torch up to 6 inches
- construction costs: over $500,000 (over $10m in today’s money)
- visits: about 4 million a year
The statue is of a robed female figure representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, who bears a torch and a tabula ansata (a tablet evoking the law) upon which is inscribed the date of the American Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776 - – JULY IV MDCCLXXVI
The island in which it stands was previously called Bedloe Island, but its name was changed in 1956 to Liberty Island. Liberty Island is federal property within the territory of the State of New York, even though it is closer to New Jersey.
According to some accounts, Bartholdi was inspired by a French law professor and politician Édouard René de Laboulaye, who is said to have commented in 1865 that any monument raised to American independence would properly be a joint project of the French and American peoples. Due to the troubled political situation in France, work on the statue did not commence until the early 1870s. In 1875, Laboulaye proposed that the French finance the statue and the Americans provide the site and build the pedestal. Bartholdi completed the head and the torch-bearing arm before the statue was fully designed, and these pieces were exhibited for publicity at international expositions.
The committees in the United States faced great difficulties in obtaining funds for the construction of the pedestal. The Panic of 1873 had led to an economic depression that persisted through much of the decade. There was criticism both of Bartholdi’s statue and of the fact that the gift required Americans to foot the bill for the pedestal. Also, in the years following the Civil War, most Americans preferred realistic artworks depicting heroes and events from the nation’s history, rather than allegorical works like the Liberty statue.
Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the World, a New York newspaper, announced a drive to raise $100,000 (the equivalent of $2.3 million today). Pulitzer pledged to print the name of every contributor, no matter how small the amount given. The drive captured the imagination of New Yorkers, especially when Pulitzer began publishing the notes he received from contributors. Ultimately, the World announced that $102,000 had been raised from 120,000 donors, and that 80 percent of the total had been received in sums of less than one dollar.
In 1886, when the statue was assembled, Lady Liberty was the tallest iron structure ever built. Even though the outside is clad with copper sheets, an iron infrastructure was used to create the framework of the statue. Designed and created by Gustave Eiffel, the inner framework served as a sort of proving grounds for his later iron creation, the Eiffel Tower. Eiffel’s design made the statue one of the earliest examples of curtain wall construction, in which the exterior of the structure is not load bearing, but is instead supported by an interior framework.
The statue was assembled twice – Once fully built, it was disassembled, crated up, and shipped across the Atlantic for re-assembly in the United States. The statue’s 300 copper pieces were transported to America in 214 crates on the French ship Isere, which almost sank in stormy seas.
No members of the general public were permitted on the island during the official dedication ceremonies, which were reserved entirely for dignitaries. The only females granted access were Bartholdi’s wife and de Lesseps’s granddaughter; officials stated that they feared women might be injured in the crush of people. The restriction offended area suffragists, who chartered a boat and got as close as they could to the island. The group’s leaders made speeches applauding the embodiment of Liberty as a woman and advocating women’s right to vote.
Shortly after the dedication, The Cleveland Gazette, an African American newspaper, suggested that the statue’s torch not be lit until the United States became a free nation “in reality”: “Liberty enlightening the world,” indeed! The expression makes us sick. This government is a howling farce. It can not or rather does not protect its citizens within its own borders. Shove the Bartholdi statue, torch and all, into the ocean until the “liberty” of this country is such as to make it possible for an inoffensive and industrious colored man to earn a respectable living for himself and family, without being ku-kluxed, perhaps murdered, his daughter and wife outraged, and his property destroyed. The idea of the “liberty” of this country “enlightening the world,” or even Patagonia, is ridiculous in the extreme.”
Originally, the statue was a dull copper color, but shortly after 1900 a green patina, also called verdigris, caused by the oxidation of the copper skin, began to spread. As early as 1902 it was mentioned in the press; by 1906 it had entirely covered the statue. Copper develops its patina as a result of exposure to air. Once the pristine copper has turned blue-green (“patinated”) the patina serves to reduce further oxidation. Thus the patina serves to protect the copper from further deterioration. Studies have revealed that only the top 5% of the skin has oxidized in the first 100 years, with most of that occurring in the first 10-25 years through a process called early oxidation.
The Statue of Liberty became the symbol of immigration during the second half of the 19th century, as over 9 million immigrants came to the United States, with the statue often being the first thing they saw when arriving by boat.
There are seven rays on the Statue’s crown, representing the seven oceans and the seven continents of the world and indicating the universal concept of liberty; each measuring up to 9 feet in length and weighing as much as 150 pounds
At the feet of the Statue lie broken shackles and chains, symbolic of freedom from oppression that she represents. However, due to the placement of the statue, and the height of the pedestal, visitors cannot see Lady Liberty’s feet and are mostly unaware of this detail.
There are 354 spiral staircase steps inside the structure leading from the pedestal to the head of the Statue of Liberty.
The current torch is a 1986 replacement of the original, now displayed in the lobby. The new torch is copper, covered in 24k. gold leaf. Sunlight reflects off the gold during the daytime and floodlights light the torch by reflection at night.
Lady Liberty is thought to have been hit by around 600 bolts of lightning every year since she was built.
The statue functioned as a lighthouse for 16 years (1886-1902), lighting a distance of up to 24 miles away.
Two people have committed suicide by jumping off the statue, one in 1929 and the other in 1932, while many others have jumped and survived.
The statue sustained minor damage in 1916 when German saboteurs set off an explosion during World War One. The torch-bearing arm suffered the most damage, with repair works costing $100,000. The stairs in the torch were then closed to the public for safety reasons, and have remained closed. No-one has been able to visit the torch since.
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