The History Of The Statue Of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty today greets millions of visitors to the United States from her home on Liberty Island in New York.

Standing three hundred and five feet tall with a lit torch in her raised hand, the Statue of Liberty today greets millions of visitors to the United States from her home on Liberty Island. The statue is known worldwide as a symbol of freedom to immigrants entering the United States during the 19th and early 20th century. But despite her symbolic connection to America's immigrant heritage, Liberty was actually built for other purposes.

French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi conceived the idea of Liberty in the early 1800s. His original intention was that the statue be used to mark Egypt's Suez Canal. However, politics wreaked havoc with his plans. Bartholdi agreed to create the statue as a gift to Americans from France to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the American Revolution, set to take place in 1876. The nascent American government had relied heavily on France's support against England during the war, and France's generous monetary donations helped secure the American colonies' victory. To reinforce this long-standing friendship, the French paid for the creation of Liberty. Liberty's original name was Liberty Enlightening the World.

The outer layer of the statue, sculpted by Bartholdi, is comprised of 100 tons of hammered copper sheets. The copper is believed to have come from the French-owned Visnes copper mines in Karmoy, an island near Stavanger, Norway. A natural patina has formed over the original tawny-colored statue, giving Liberty her characteristic greenish hue. The statue is supported by an intricate frame of iron beams constructed by Gustave Alexandre Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame. The frame required 150 tons of steel to complete. Actual construction of the statue did not begin in France until 1875. The final statue was exhibited in Paris in 1884 and then formally presented to the United States on July 4th, 1884. To ship the statue to the States, Liberty was dismantled into 350 pieces, which were packed into 214 boxes onto the French frigate "╦ťIsere'.



Liberty required a pedestal, however, and Americans undertook a fundraising campaign for its construction. Newspaper publisher and Hungarian immigrant Joseph Pulitzer led the campaign. American architect Richard Morris Hunt constructed Liberty's base. The wall surrounding this pedestal comes from Fort Wood - a fort used to defend New York during the War of 1812. The famous words of poet Emma Lazarus were not inscribed on the pedestal until 1903. The reassembly of Liberty was complete in 1886 and officially dedicated by President Grover Cleveland. Liberty Island (where the statue now stands), Ellis Island and the actual Statue of Liberty were proclaimed a national monument in 1924. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has made the statue a World Heritage Site.

From 1892 to 1954 an estimated 16 million immigrants arrived in the United States via New York's Ellis Island immigration depot. Their first glimpse of America was the Statue of Liberty. For these immigrants, Liberty's broken chains at her feet perfectly represented their escape from the tyranny of their own countries. The Statue of Liberty was thus transformed into a symbol of freedom and of America's immigrant heritage. Those around the world seeking liberty have felt the statue's symbolic value. Chinese students made a replica of the statue for use during the Tianammen Square demonstrations against the Chinese government.

Liberty is now more than one hundred years old, and her age has begun to take its toll. Recently a rehabilitation project replaced corroded iron bars of her frame with stainless steel rods. Experts strengthened her arm, which was incorrectly installed upon her arrival in the US. A copper torch that reflects light (the original intention of the sculptor) replaced the glass torch, which now resides in the statue's museum.

Excellent maintenance of the Statue of Liberty is essential because she receives on average 4.2 million visitors per year. According to New York City tourist organizations, July and August are the busiest touring months, while January and February are less crowded. All visitors are permitted to climb the 192 stairs to the observation decks or all 352 steps to the statue's crown. At one time visitors were allowed into the torch via a ladder. For security reasons, visitors are now limited to the crown. The skyline views at the crown are spectacular but wait times during peak seasons can average three hours. To avoid crowds, visitors should arrive early at Battery Park to make the first ferries to Liberty Island. Ferries run every thirty to forty-five minutes. The best views of the statue are seen from the right side of the ferry when leaving from Battery Park, and the left side when returning.

The statue's pedestal also doubles as a museum. Inside tourists will find several interesting facts about the construction of the Statue of Liberty and her history. The twenty-five windows in the statue's crown are said to represent the "natural minerals" of the earth. Liberty's toga represents the Ancient Republic of Rome. The crown's seven spikes are thought to represent the seven seas (Arctic, Anarctica, North and South Atlantic, North and South Pacific, and Indian) or the seven continents (North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Antarctica, and Australia). Liberty's hand is sixteen feet in length. Her index finger stretches to eight feet, white her fingernail measures 13"x10".

Although Ellis Island is no longer the central depot for immigrants entering the United States, the Statue of Liberty remains a symbol of freedom for people worldwide. As long as America exists, so too will Liberty's torch shine as a light of hope for freedom for all.

Sources: www.nyctourist.com, "Statue of Liberty - The Last Remaining Mystery" at http://home.online.no/~kanda/statue.htm, "Statue of Liberty Facts" at http://www.endex.com/gf/buildings/liberty/liberty.html

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