Statue of Liberty Arrives in America...126 years ago today


By Stephen Peck, Web Team Intern

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11-cent Statue of Liberty stamp, 1961

On this day, in 1885, the defining landmark of the United States arrived in New York harbor. It had traveled across the Atlantic from France, but that short trip was only a small moment in the winding journey behind the creation of the quintessential icon of liberty and freedom: the statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.

20 years prior, a young sculptor named Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi sat quietly at a dinner party listening to the host, Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye, speak.

The small group of Frenchmen assembled at the party were what many at the time would call “radicals.” They were citizens opposed to the reign of Napoleon III and in favor of a Republican government.

Laboulaye praised the relationship between France and the United States, an alliance dating back to the Revolutionary War, when French assistance to the colonial cause proved to be a decisive reason why the war was won. (Pictured below are two stamps commemorating that alliance: 1952, 3c Marquis de Lafayette and the 1978, 13c French Alliance stamp)

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3-cent Marquis de Lafayette stamp, 1952
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13-cent King Louis XVI and Franklin stamp, 1978

Laboulaye referred to the United States and France as “Two Sisters,” each with a love of liberty. Thinking aloud, Laboulaye asked how wonderful it would be if a monument could be erected in America from the French celebrating their alliance and similar beliefs in democracy and liberty.

Bartholdi heard these words and was fascinated. The spark that would light Lady Liberty’s eternal torch had been ignited.

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22-cent F. A. Bartholdi stamp, 1985

Bartholdi (pictured at left in 1985m 22c commemorating his work) continued to work on other projects. It wasn’t until 1871 when things got serious regarding the creation of a French statue to be given to the United States.

After speaking with Laboulaye, Bartholdi set sail to America with one goal: “I will try to glorify the Republic and Liberty over there, in the hope that someday I will find it again here.”

Armed only with a sketch and a small model of the statue he entitled “Liberty Enlightening the World,” Bartholdi met with some of America’s elite, including President Ulysses S. Grant. The two countries agreed that France would provide the statue and the U.S. would provide its pedestal and location.

Upon his arrival in New York harbor, Bartholdi set his eyes on Bedloe’s Island, a place he deemed a perfect resting place for the statue. “The gateway to America,” he called the location.

His vision was generally well received in America, but fundraising efforts did not match the enthusiasm. Back in France, the monetary support slowly trickled in once the political situation settled down in 1875. Bartholdi began construction at the foundry of Gaget, Gauthier and Co. With copper entirely donated by outside merchants, he began forming his Liberty statue.

It was to be a female figure (some say modeled after Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom), cloaked in flowing robes, adorned with a seven pointed crown representing the seven continents, and holding a torch aloft.

The statue itself was to be surprisingly light for its size. Its outer copper skin is only 2.5 millimeters thick and has an intricate, internal steel framework designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel.

As construction continued on the colossal statue (from base to torch it was to be 152 feet tall), fundraising became the big issue. The French eventually raised all the funds they needed by 1879 thanks to clever lotteries and auctions, but efforts in the States moved much slower.

The economic downturn in America set off by the panic of 1873 caused the Statue of Liberty to tumble down the list of priorities in the collective minds of the American public. As the New York Times wrote, “No true patriot can countenance any such expenditures for bronze females in the present state of our finances.”

The United States was only in charge of constructing the pedestal upon which the statue was to sit. The goal was to raise $100,000, but fundraising was so bad that construction of the pedestal stopped altogether in 1884. The future of the Statue of Liberty looked grim.

Until Joseph Pulitzer, and the American public, saved the day.

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3-cent Joseph Pulitzer stamp, 1947

In March of 1885, Pulitzer (pictured at right in the 1947, 3c stamp) began a campaign to raise $100,000 for the completion of the pedestal in his newspaper, The World. He promised to publish the names of everybody who donated, no matter the amount.

Pulitzer wrote that the statue was paid for by “the masses of the French people. Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.”

The campaign captivated America and was mutually beneficial for the pedestal to be completed ($100,000 was raised over four months from 120,000 different donors) and for The World (it became the newspaper with the largest circulation in North America).

On June 17, 1885, the statue, broken up into 350 pieces like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, arrived in New York harbor aboard the French ship Isere. It was assembled on site as soon as the pedestal was assembled.

On October 28, 1886, the Statute of Liberty was officially dedicated. The unveiling was an all day party complete with the first ever ticker tape parade (traders threw rolls of ticker tape out of the windows of Wall Street), and an address by President Grover Cleveland.

“[Its] stream of light shall pierce the darkness of ignorance and man’s oppression until Liberty enlightens the world,” Cleveland said.

In 1903, a plaque with “The New Colossus,” a poem by Emma Lazarus written in 1883 as part of the fundraising efforts, was affixed to the pedestal.

It contains the iconic lines, “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-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” (Immigrants' first image of America was the Statue of Liberty as they sailed into the harbor. They were honored in this 1998, 32c, double-sided stamp pictured below)

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Front and back of 32-cent Immigrants stamp, 1998

For over 120 years, with broken chains underfoot, tablet in hand, and torch held high, Liberty has welcomed thousands of immigrants to her shores and has served as a constant reminder that independence and human liberty are values worth fighting for.

As described by UNESCO when the monument was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1984, the Statue of Liberty is a “masterpiece of the human spirit” that “endures as a highly potent symbol- inspiring contemplation, debate and protest- of ideals such as liberty, peace, human rights, abolition of slavery, democracy and opportunity.”

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22-cent Statue of Liberty stamp, 1986


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