Statue of Liberty, 1875-1884

Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi

Liberty Island, visible in the distance from shoreline of Manhattan downtown on the west side, for example from Battery Park, or from the Staten Island ferry. Accessible by a ferry that leaves from Battery Park and stops both at Liberty Island and Ellis Island. For more information, visit the National Parks Service webpage for the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty rises 305 feet into the air, standing on a tall pedestal in a flowing, roman-inspired dress. Her right arm is raised high, holding a torch that suggests enlightenment [1]. On her head she wears a nimbus with seven points, one for each of the seven continents [2]. She looks straight ahead, mid-stride as her right foot lifts off the ground to meet her left. Cradled in her left arm she holds a book representing faith [3].

The Statue of Liberty was given to the United States by France in 1884. Edouard Laboulaye, a French historian and politician, came up with the idea for the statue in 1865, and in 1871 he commissioned sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi to design the work [4]. Originally intended to be completed by the 100-year anniversary of the independence of the United States, the project proved too large for such an ambitious schedule, and was not finished until 1884 [5]. The work, which was put together first in France, then had to be dismantled, packaged, shipped to the United States, and re-assembled on Liberty Island (then called Bedloe Island) [6]. The sculpture was finally dedicated in a ceremony on October 26, 1886.

The statue is made of a thin layer of molded copper covering an iron skeleton [7]. The skeleton, which supports the statue's 179,200 pounds of copper [8], was designed by French engineer Gustave Eiffel, who later created the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

In accepting the gift of the Statue of Liberty from France, the United States agreed to raise money for the building of a pedestal on which the state would stand. This pedestal, designed by American architect Richard Morris Hunt, is 89 feet high, and cost almost $94,000 to build [9]. In order to raise money for the construction, a committee was established, and a fund-raising drive began. One event held to benefit the drive was the Pedestal Art Loan Exhibition, at which various works of art were shown and auctioned. It was for this auction that Emma Lazarus, American poet, wrote her famous work "The New Colossus"[10]. The words of the poem, which are now widely associated with the symbolic meaning of the Statue of Liberty, were not actually posted on Liberty Island until 1903, after a friend of Lazarus' rediscovered the poem, had it inscribed on a plaque, and donated it for installation inside the pedestal [11]. It was at this time that the statue became seen as a symbol of immigration to the United States [12].

There have been various interpretations as to what were the intentions of Laboulaye and his associates in the presentation of the Statue of Liberty to the United States. Beyond simply a gift of friendship, the statue may have been intended to stimulate trade between the two nations, or to highlight the technological advances of the French [13]. It may have been intended as a message to the French people promoting democracy and liberty as seen in the United States [14].

Possible discussion themes
Immigration, and the cultures that make up New York.
The representation of women as allegories in public art.
Public artworks in New York created by artists from other countries, and the status of American sculptors in the late1800s.

Related art works
The Immigrants.
This sculpture, which is located in front of Castle Clinton in Battery Park, represents a group of immigrants from various countries, waiting for the required approval to enter the United States. Whereas the Statue of Liberty evokes an image of steadfast conviction in the ideals of liberty as practiced in the United States, the figures in The Immigrants present more of the mixed emotions of arrival in a new country without a clear view of the future.

The Four Continents.
Located on the former United States Customs House at Bowling Green (across the street from an entrance to Battery Park), the four sculptures representing Asia, America, Europe, and Africa are a visual illustration of turn-of-the-century conceptions of the world and its cultures. This set of sculptures was made around the time that Emma Lazarus' poem empathizing with the plight of immigrants was posted at the base of the Statue of Liberty, representing the association of the Statue of Liberty with the many immigrants that it greeted as they headed towards the immigration center at Ellis Island.


  1. Gayle, M. & Cohen, M. (1988). The Art Commission and The Municipal Art Society guide to Manhattan's outdoor sculpture. New York: Prentice Hall Press. p. 4.
  2. Gayle & Cohen, p. 4.
  3. Gayle & Cohen, p. 4.
  4. Moreno, B. (2000). The Statue of Liberty Encyclopedia. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 134.
  5. Gayle & Cohen, p. 3.
  6. Moreno, p. 64.
  7. Moreno, p. 62.
  8. Moreno, p. 75.
  9. Moreno, p. 184-186.
  10. Moreno, p. 140.
  11. Moreno, p. 172-174.
  12. Dolkart, A. & Gill, B. (1994). Guide to New York City landmarks. New York: The Preservation Press. p. 240.
  13. Collins, G. (Oct. 28, 2000). "Cracks found in myths around statue: Park service librarian writes book to clarify Lady Liberty's origins." The New York Times, sec. B, p. 1, col. 1.
  14. Collins, sec. B, p. 1, col. 1.

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