Many people believe the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States, intended to commemorate the lasting friendship between the two nations. But the actual story is more complicated.
At the young age of 21, French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi toured the mid-East and Egypt and was dazzled by the pyramids and the Sphinx. He committed himself to building a public monument or colossus of his own for Egypt.
He designed am enormous lighthouse in the shape of a woman holding a torch for the entrance to the Suez Canal. But the Egyptian government eventually turned him down, believing the project to be too massive and expensive.
He decided to pitch his idea to America, a country he had never visited. In diaries and letters, he described his journey to various American cities trying to drum up support.
When no commitments to funding emerged, he contrived numerous ways to raise funds himself. He put on spectacles of wonder in Paris, charged visitors admission to watch the construction of the statute in his dusty workshop, sold souvenirs, and petitioned the French government to let him run a national lottery, which they did. In the end, it was a joint effort between France and the US which brought Bartholdi’s vision to life. France committed to funding the statue, and the US, the pedestal. It took 15 years for the US (using benefit theatrical events, art exhibitions, contests, auctions and prizefights) to raise the necessary funds.
Bartholdi’s creation, titled “Liberty Enlightening the World,” depicted a woman holding a torch in her raised right hand and a tablet in her left, upon which was engraved JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (the date the Declaration of Independence was signed) with a broken chain at her feet, depicting freedom.
He completed the head and the torch-bearing arm first and these pieces were exhibited for publicity at international expositions. The torch was exhibited with great success at the 1876 world’s fair in Philadelphia. Fairgoers paid admission to climb up the torch and take in the view from the top. Philadelphia was so enthusiastic in its funding raising and New York so lackluster, that Bartholdi considered changing the installation location from New York to Philadelphia. Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, and San Francisco all offered to pay for the pedestal to have the statue relocated to their harbors.
This motivated Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World, to start a drive for donations to keep the statue in New York. His strategy? He promised to print the name of anyone who donated, even a penny, in his newspaper. Readers bought a copy just to see their names in print—a brilliant marketing gimmick. His newspaper ad attracted more than 160,000 contributors, two-thirds of which gave less than a dollar. This was enough to confirm the statue would be located in New York.
In 1885, 30 years after Bartholdi first envisioned it, the statue was completed, disassembled, packed in more than 200 crates, and shipped to New York where it was erected on the pedestal on Bedloe’s (now called Liberty) Island. It took over four months to mount and reassemble it. At the end, it stood a glorious 305 feet high, a testament to France and America’s cooperative accomplishment.
On a bizarre note, Thomas Edison once claimed he was designing a “monster disc” for a phonograph within the statute that would allow it to deliver speeches that could be heard across the bay. Evidently, even geniuses have the occasional bad idea!
We at Moving Forward wish you and all your loved ones the warmest and most joyous holiday season, however you celebrate it. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of how truly blessed with freedom we are, every season of the year.