On July 4, 1884, France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States in Paris. Created by sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, the statue was intended as a gift from France to the United States to celebrate a century of friendship between the two countries. To great fanfare, the statue arrived in New York Harbor from France almost a year later, on June 17, 1885. It would take another year for the Statue of Liberty to be unveiled. Today, the Statue of Liberty is the ultimate symbol of American freedom and diversity. The sculptor modeled his statue after the Roman goddess Libertas, who represents freedom from tyranny and oppression.
The statue was first named “Liberty Enlightening the World” and was a joint effort between America and France. The French were responsible for constructing and assembling the statue and America’s duty was to build the statue’s pedestal. Both countries ran into many obstacles raising funds for the project. In the United States, there were benefit events, including art exhibitions, auctions and prizefights, to raise money. Emma Lazarus wrote her poem “The New Colossus” in 1883 for the art and literary auction to raise money for the pedestal construction. One of the most famous stanzas from her poem, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” is still considered by many as an expression of one of America’s fundamental values, especially when it comes to immigration policy. In 1903, the sonnet was cast on a bronze plaque and attached to the inner wall of the Statue of Liberty. Today, the plaque is on display in the Statue of Liberty Exhibit in the Statue’s pedestal.
Once the construction was complete, the statue was assembled in Paris between 1881 to 1884. Also in 1884, the construction of the pedestal began in the United States. To ship it to America, the Statue was disassembled into 350 individual pieces and packed into 214 crates. Although it arrived in the United States in 1885, the Statue of Liberty was not reassembled until 1886 when the pedestal was completed. It took four months to reassemble the statue on the pedestal.
President Grover Cleveland oversaw the dedication of the Statue of Liberty on October 28, 1886. Among the thousands of spectators was a group of suffragettes there to protest. They chartered a boat to circle Ellis Island during the unveiling in order to blast protest speeches. They found it hypocritical that a gigantic woman representing liberty could stand at New York Harbor, while American women did not even have the liberty to vote. Only two women attended the actual unveiling: Bartholdi’s wife and the 13-year-old daughter of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French engineer responsible for designing the Suez canal.
Between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty was one of the first images they saw when the arrived. Today, as we celebrate Independence Day, the Statue of Liberty is the ultimate expression of America’s ideals of freedom and liberty.