The Statue of Liberty was a unique gift of gratitude from one of America’s oldest friends and trusted allies, France. In this exhibit, you will learn about the amazing Lady Liberty, her purpose, and mission and the importance of her message to all who arrive in America seeking life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that this free nation affords to all legal immigrants to America.
In this exhibit, you will learn all about the her history, dimensions, a poet’s tribute to her, and many more facts about her amazing journey to the pedestal on which she now stands. We hope you will watch the video, take the virtual tour and read the poem written in her honor!
About the Statue of Liberty
One of the most beloved symbols of America, the Statue of Liberty still stands as a beacon of hope for the millions of visitors who come to New York each year. There are countless personal testimonies from legal immigrants to America, who watched her magnificent form come into focus as their ships entered into the New York harbor.
With her right arm, boldly holding a glowing torch of freedom. She stands 150 feet tall from base to tip of her torch, graced as a goddess, in a loose robe gracefully draping her beautiful form. In her left arm she cradles a tablet displaying the date of our nation’s independence from England in Roman numerals, July 4, 1776. Her precious head adorned appropriately with a crown with seven spikes that symbolize the light of liberty shining on the seven seas and seven continents. The chain beneath her feet, defiantly representing that tyranny now lies crushed and broken at her feet.
Millions of tourists visit the Statue of Liberty each year. For them, and for the entire world today, the Lady Liberty is a strong, welcoming figure extending the promise of hope and opportunity, in the land of the free, because of the brave.
History of the Statue of Liberty
Since her arrival, the meanings of the Statue have evolved, making her an international icon of Freedom and the most recognizable symbol of democracy worldwide.
Hers is a story of change. The people of France gifted the Statue to the people of the United States in recognition of a friendship established during the American Revolution.
It was in the throes of the American Civil War, that the prominent French political thinker, and leading expert on the U.S. Constitution, as well as an abolitionist and supporter of then President Abraham Lincoln, Edouard de Laboulaye proposed the idea of building a monument for the American people. It was ten years after President Lincoln passed the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery in the United States, that Laboulaye enlisted the help of friend and sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, announcing in September 1875, the formation of the Franco-Amerian Union as its fundraising arm, to establish the means by which to build “Liberty Enlightening the World”, a gift to the American people, that ultimately inspired the French people to call for democracy in France. Laboulaye’s love for democracy and freedom was, not only channeled into building the iconic beacon of hope and freedom, but also rallied the French people to learn from the struggles, defeats and triumphs of the American people.
The site for the placement of the Statue of Liberty was chosen upon seeing Bedloe’s Island from his ship as he sailed into the New York Harbor, and realized it would be a perfect location – since here his statue would always have an audience.
Fashioned in the style of Greco-Roman art, Bartholdi used a technique called “repousse” to create her copper skin, which was achieved by hammering out each piece of copper until it was only 3/32 of an inch think.
The skeleton of the Statue of Liberty was achieved by recruiting French engineer Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, who designed and built the famous Eiffel Tower. The skeletal framework, composed of a massive iron pylon, which allows the Statue’s copper skin to move independently, yet stand upright, was necessary to allow for the Statue safely sway in the often violent harbor winds.
In a joint effort between America and France, it was agreed that the American people would build the pedestal, and the French people were responsible for the Statue and assembly. In France, the excitement was so high, that funding came in the forms of public fees, various forms of entertainment, and even items with the Statue on it were embraced as successful ways to raise money. Although, there were attempts to do the same in the United States- fundraising here was met with limited results, because the American people didn’t have the motivation…until Joseph Pulitzer stepped in and was able to raise the remaining money for the pedestal using his newspaper “The World.”
July 1885, it arrived in New York.
On October 28, 1886, thousands of spectators watched the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.
Before it was ever viewed as a national symbol, the Statue would endure many physical changes as well as administrative changes. First cared for by the Lighthouse Board, then the War Department and finally the National Park Service in 1933, 9 years after it had been declared a National Monument.
In 1956, in honor of the Statue, Bedloe’s Island was renamed Liberty Island, and in 1965, then President Lyndon B. Johnson added Ellis Island to the Statue of Liberty National Monument.
In May of 1982, preparations for the 100th birthday of the Statue of Liberty, plans for a restoration project were underway.
In early 1984, the United Nations designated the Statue of Liberty as a World Heritage Site, and the newly restored Statue opened to the public July 5, 1986 during Liberty Weekend, a centennial celebration.
The tragedy of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the ill-fated crash in that Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001 resulted in the closure of Liberty Island. After 100 days, the island re-opened, however the Statue remained closed until August 3, 2004 when only the pedestal level was opened for visitation. On July 4, 2009, the Crown of the Statue of Liberty was re-opened to the public. Visitors must now make a reservation to climb to the top of the Pedestal or to the Statue’s Crown.
The New Colossus
Emma Lazarus was born in New York to a wealthy sugar refining family of Portuguese-Sephordic Jewish decent on July 22, 1849. She was a writer, poet and was involved in charitable work for refugees. Working as an aide for Jewish immigrants who had been detained by Castle Garden immigration officials, she became deeply moved by the plight of the Russian Jews she met, and it was these experiences that influenced her writing.
In 1883, Lazarus was invited to compose a sonnet for the “Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty” by William Maxwell Evarts and Constance Cary Harrison. It was an art and literary auction meant to raise funds for the Statue’s pedestal run by the American Committee for the Statue of Liberty.
Inspired by her own Sephardic Jewish heritage, her experiences working with refugees on Ward’s Island, and the plight of the immigrant, wrote “The New Colossus” on November 2, 1883. Convinced that immigrants would be inspired by seeing the statuesque Lady Liberty welcoming them ashore, Emma donated the poem for auction at the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund. Later, the sonnet appeared in Joseph Pulitzer’s New Your World and in the New York Times.
The New Colossus
By Emma Lazarus, 1883
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 beginning of the Statue of Liberty poem refers to the Colossus of Rhodes, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Colossus of Rhodes is actually a statue of the Greek god Helios, which stood over 100 feet tall (the tallest of its time) before it was destroyed by earthquake in 226 BC. So, the Statue of Liberty poem refers to this new giant statue likened to the old that represented the god of light. The Statue of Liberty poem also sets itself apart from Helios in that the Mother of Exiles is more welcoming than conquering. She welcomes all castaways, misfits and homeless types dreaming of freedom.
Fun Facts about the Statue of Liberty
- Official dedication ceremonies held on Thursday, October 28, 1886
- Total overall height from the base of the pedestal foundation to the tip of the torch is 305 feet, 6 inches
- Height of the Statue from her heel to the top of her head is 111 feet, 6 inches
- The face on the Statue of Liberty measures more than 8 feet tall
- There are 154 steps from the pedestal to the head of the Statue of Liberty
- A tablet held in her left hand measures 23′ 7″ tall and 13′ 7″ wide inscribed with the date JULY IV MDCCLXXVI (July 4, 1776)
- The Statue has a 35-foot waistline
- There are seven rays on her crown, one for each of the seven continents, each measuring up to 9 feet in length and weighing as much as 150 pounds
- Total weight of the Statue of Liberty is 225 tons (or 450,000 pounds)
- At the feet of the Statue lie broken shackles of oppression and tyranny
- During the restoration completed in 1986, the new torch was carefully covered with thin sheets of 24k gold
- The exterior copper covering of the Statue of Liberty is 3/32 of an inch thick (less than the thickness of two pennies) and the light green color (called a patina) is the result of natural weathering of the copper