Today in American History: June 17, 1885

Today in American History: June 17, 1885


The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to America to symbolize their friendship. It was dismantled into 350 individual pieces and was shipped across the ocean in over 200 cases. It arrive in New York Harbor June 17, 1885. The statue, constructed of copper and iron, was reassembled once it made its way to America. It was then dedicated in a ceremony a year later on October 28, 2886 by President Grover Cleveland. He said, "“We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.” Over time it became the universal symbol of freedom and democracy across the world.

The statue was meant to commemorate several things including the victory of the American Revolution, abolition of slavery, and 100 years of friendship between France and America. The statue was modeled after the sculptor's (Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi) mother. Bartholdi had help from Gustave Eiffel who was an engineer that later developed the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris. 

The statue was supposed to be finished in 1876 for the 100th anniversary of the signing of the American Declaration of Independence. However, raising the funds to complete it took much longer than expected. Fundraisers which included auctions, lottery matches, etc took place in both France and America. Although the statue itself was a gift, America had to provide the funds for the pedestal. The statue cost the French about $250,000, which would translate to roughly $5.5 million today.

Finally, in 1884 the statue was finished in Paris. The iconic lady liberty is a robed woman with her arm outreached up holding a torch. She reached Bedloe's Island in New York Harbor the next year. She weighed a whopping 450,000 lbs and stood more than 350 feet tall, and was the tallest structure in New York at the time. Lady Liberty was dubbed, "Liberty Enlightening the World" by Bartholdi. And although the statue was originally copper colored, weather over the years caused it to patina, or turn a greenish blue color.

Located near Bedloe's Island (which is now named Liberty Island) was Ellis Island. It opened in 1892 and became the main point of entry for immigrants coming into America. Over the next 62 years, Lady Liberty was the first welcoming symbol that over 12 million immigrants saw as they sailed into New York Harbor. 

In 1903 the sonnet "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus was inscribed on a plaque and placed on the interior wall of the pedestal. The quote “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” from Lazarus' work is not considered symbolic of America's view of itself as the land of opportunity for all.

On October 15, 1924 the Statue of Liberty became a national monument. About 60 years later it underwent a huge restoration which cost over a million dollars. Some of the upgrades included a new torch and a gold leafed flame. Once it was complete it was rededicated by President Ronald Reagan on July 4, 1986. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the statue was closed. It later reopened in 2004, and the crown opened to the public in 2009. The torch hasn't been open to people since the Black Tom explosions of 1916.

Today, Lady Liberty is an American icon. She's been in movies, photographs, the location of several political rallies, and has millions of visitors from around the world each year. She is by far one of America's most famous landmarks and the symbol of freedom of the free world.

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