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Historic Gifts: A Copper Present

December 10, 2015

Historic Gifts: A Copper Present

Our second story of historical gifts is the Statue of Liberty, gifted by France in 1886 to the U.S., a gift which took two decades to realize.

Now an iconic symbol for the United States, the the idea for the Statue of LIberty originated in France. Edouard-Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye, an American history scholar, was proud of France’s role in the formation of the young nation. Laboulaye held a dinner in 1865 where he emphasized the friendship between the U.S. and France and said “If a monument to independence were built in America, I should think it very natural if it were a common work of both nations.” These words stuck with an important guest: Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the future sculptor of the statue.

Bartholdi continued to think about such a project. After the Franco-Prussian War, Bartholdi visited the U.S. to ask Americans how they felt about such a monument. He traveled from New York to California and back meeting people like President Grant and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Everywhere he went he was met with overwhelming support for the idea.

After raising 400,000 francs from the French public for the project, he began designing the statue in 1871, and construction started in 1881 in Paris. The entire statue is made up of 300 separate sheets of copper, beaten into shape, riveted together, and held together by an interior structure developed by Gustave Eiffel, the same engineer who developed the Eiffel Tower.

After completion, the statue was packed into hundreds of speciality crates and sent to Sandy Hook, NY where it arrived in May 1885. It was erected on Bedloe’s Island, now Liberty Island, in New York Harbor, and completed in 1886. Upon its completion President Cleveland said “We shall not forget that Liberty has made here her home, nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.” This promise was fulfilled in 1976 when the statue was designated an official Landmark.