Lady Liberty’s Roundabout Journey To New York

From sea to shining sea, one lady leads the way as a symbol of freedom, independence, and opportunity. The Statue of Liberty represents far more than just an icon or tourist attraction. She stands tall in Upper New York Bay, watching over the city and years of history that came before her. While today approximately 3.5 million admirers visit the Statue of Liberty each year, her journey to Liberty Island almost didn’t happen! Let’s take a trip to New York, New York, to learn more about America’s leading Lady Liberty.

The same man who built the Eiffel Tower designed the skeleton of the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty was sculpted and created as a gift from France to the United States. She was meant to commemorate the new alliance between the two countries during the American Revolution, as well as act as an emblem for immigrants seeking refuge.

As one might imagine, it took a true team to conceptualize, build, and deliver a gift of such stature. The monument’s original proposal was born from French political thinker and abolitionist, Édouard de Laboulaye. Laboulaye took his idea to the sculptor responsible for Lady Liberty, and a great supporter of his vision, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi.

Bartholdi originally created the statue out of hammered copper sheets. To hold the monument in place, a skeleton was constructed using steel. This interior structure was designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel—the man who built the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, June 1885, showing woodcuts of the completed statue in Paris, Bartholdi, and the statue’s interior structure.

Though a gift from France to America, Lady Liberty’s arrival had some strings attached.

The intention of the French was to bestow the statue upon the United States as a symbolic gift. However, in order to make Bartholdi’s work a reality, Americans had to put in some work. Where would such an iconic monument stand?

When America turned up less than enthusiastic about the idea of fundraising for Lady Liberty’s new home base, Bartholdi took matters into his own hands and planned the publicity stunt of the century: The Arm of Liberty on tour.

The Statue of Liberty’s torch-bearing arm was displayed for the first time at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, before making its way to New York. Visitors could pay to climb a ladder into the statue’s arm and up to the torch—a true insider look.

Statue of Liberty Hand and Torch

Stereoscopic image of right arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty, 1876 Centennial Exposition

The New York Times called her earliest form “utterly valueless.”

Bartholdi’s arm stunt wasn’t exactly a fail, but it wasn’t quite a success, either. Even after ticket sales and public buzz, New York wasn’t sold on the arm sticking around in their Madison Square Garden territory. They deemed the Statue of Liberty project, “suspended in consequence of a lack of funds.”

In that same debut year, The New York Times knocked Bartholdi for his creative arm-tour idea saying, “… arms without any accompanying woman would be utterly valueless.” They also released a statement declaring that the arm is the only part of the statue the state would receive, as it is doubtful the American public would pay the cost of finishing the whole monument.

The Statue of Liberty could have lived 150 feet up in the air.

With New York’s lackluster attitude towards Lady Liberty, it’s no surprise that the feud for her custody started to stir amongst other states. Though on any other given day, New Yorkers were indifferent about Lady Liberty’s residency in the Big Apple, it was only when another state or city showed interest that they had a strong passion to keep her.

While her debut city of Philadelphia was always a contender for the statue, Boston, Massachusetts, also showed great interest in moving Lady Liberty to their territory. When New Yorkers caught wind of their interest in 1882, The New York Times shut down the idea quickly writing, “Let Boston be warned in time that she can’t have our Liberty.”

But, the callers didn’t end in Massachusetts. In 1883, The Washington Post reported that they had a vision of Lady Liberty 150 feet up resting atop the Washington Monument! The Washington Post essentially called out New York for taking their sweet time financially backing Lady Lib—if they didn’t act quickly, someone was going to steal her away.

The bidding war ended years later after New York kicked their fundraising efforts into high gear. From advertisements selling “$1 miniature Statuettes” to bigger events like concerts and art exhibits, eventually, New York’s Liberty love paid off. The Statue of Liberty found her permanent home in 1886 on Liberty Island.

What exactly do the seven spikes of the Statue of Liberty represent?

According to most, including the National Park Service official site, the seven spikes atop the Statue of Liberty’s head are meant to represent the seven seas and seven continents of the world.

However, the park’s official librarian and author of The Statue of Liberty Encyclopedia, Barry Moreno, argues that fact isn’t exactly true. “The spikes are sun rays,” he says, and the circle is “simply a halo or what in art is called a nimbus, showing she is divine.” He told NPR.org that the statue’s official website needs to be changed to correct this inconsistency.

Statue of Liberty Crown

Carlos Delgado, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Statue of Liberty has a waistline of 35 feet.

The numbers speak for themselves when it comes to the Statue of Liberty’s enormous stature of 305 feet, 1 inch. Her touring torch-bearing arm alone measures in at 42 feet. The tablet in her opposing hand is inscribed with the date July 4, 1776, written in Roman numerals as JULY IV MDCCLXXVI, and measures 23 feet, 7 inches tall.

Those seven rays atop her head? Each one measures up to nine feet in length and weighs as much as 150 pounds. And speaking of carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, Lady Liberty herself weighs a total of about 450,000 pounds.

Statue of Liberty

Ellis Island visitors will be seeing double this Independence Day!

As if one Statue of Liberty wasn’t enough, just in time for the Independence Day celebrations, France recently sent the U.S. another, smaller version of the monument! After ten years on display at the museum Musée des Arts et Métiers, this short bronze beauty is officially on the move. Only 1/16th the size of the original Statue of Liberty, the temporary display will be much easier to move than her big sister.

This mini-me replica will be on display alongside Lady Liberty on Ellis Island for Independence Day 2021 before moving to Washington, D.C., where it will remain until 2031.

Robert Ripley and the State of Liberty

Robert Ripley looking at the Statue of Liberty from in the distance while onboard a ship.

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