New York City Treasure: Statue of Liberty

There are few visitors to New York who are not familiar with the iconic silhouette of the Statue of Liberty Monument. The Statue of Liberty, who raises the torch of freedom skyward from her perch in New York Harbor, has long been a symbol of freedom and democracy, but prior to those attributes, she was intended to stand as an emblem of international friendship.

Construction of the Statue of Liberty was a joint project between America and France. French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design the sculpture, and was given the deadline of the year 1876 for completion, so the statue would commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. America was to provide the pedestal upon which the statue would stand, while France was responsible for the design and production of the Statue, as well as its assembly in New York. Both countries found themselves in an economic ditch as the project went underway – in France, fundraising in the form of public fees, entertainment, and even a lottery was used to finance the project.

America, too, put on benefit theatrical events, auctions, prize fights, and art exhibitions to allocate necessary funds. Fundraising for the pedestal went more slowly than preferable, so Joseph Pulitzer (the same man who posthumously began the Pulitzer Prizes) used the editorials. In his New York newspaper, “The World”, he criticized the rich who had failed to finance the construction and middle-class citizens who happily allowed the rich to bear the monetary donation burden. While harsh, Pulitzer’s campaign of criticism was enough to motivate more American people to donate.

Once Bartholdi’s design was complete, he turned to engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (famous for the construction of the Eiffel Tower at the 1889 World’s Fair) for assistance with the structural complications brought about by designing a massive copper statue. Eiffel was in turn commissioned to design the iron pylon and skeletal framework to support the Statue’s skin and infrastructure. The Statue was completed in July of 1884, but had to wait for the American completion of the pedestal. Financing for the pedestal was finally completed in August of 1885, and by April of 1886, the pedestal had been built. Meanwhile, the Statue was shipped from France and arrived in New York Harbor in June of 1885 aboard the frigate “Isere”. For her journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the Statue was dismantled into 350 separate pieces, which were packed into a grand total of 214 crates. In a mere four months, the pieces were reassembled on the new pedestal, and on October 28th, 1886, ten years late from her expected centennial date, the Statue of Liberty was formally dedicated in front of thousands of excited citizens. The Statue celebrated her 100th birthday on October 28th, 1986.

Since her installation, the history of the Statue and her island has seen many changes. The statue was placed on a granite pedestal within the star-shaped walls of Fort Wood, which had been built for the War of 1812. Operation of the Statue fell to the United States Lighthouse Board until 1901, when care and operation of the Statue of Liberty was transferred to the War Department. On October 15th, 1924, a Presidential Proclamation declared Fort Wood and the Statue within it to be a National Monument. The administration and care of the Monument was transferred yet again in 1933, this time to the National Park Service. The boundaries of the monument were expanded from the outer edges of Fort Wood to include all of Bedloe’s Island on September 7th, 1937, and in 1956, the name of the island was officially changed from Bedloe’s Island to Liberty Island.

The famous Ellis Island was transferred to the National Park Service on May 11th, 1965, and was made a part of the Statue of Liberty Monument. Lee Iacocca was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in May 1982 to supervise a private sector effort to repair and restore the Statue. The $87 million restoration fundraising began under the partnership between The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. and the National Park Service, and is to date the most successful public-private joint venture in the history of the United States.

When restoration of the Statue began in 1984, the United Nations honored the site by designating the Statue of Liberty as a World Heritage Site. The Statue of Liberty finally saw her long-awaited centennial celebration when, newly restored, she re-opened to the public during Liberty Weekend on July 5th, 1986.

History, Facts, and Trivia

There are all sorts of fun facts about the Statue of Liberty, but to include all of them in one article would be nearly impossible. To find out more about the history of the Statue of Liberty, and to uncover some of the lesser-known factoids about its construction, check out the following links:

  • The Chronology of Liberty Island – The Statue may have been installed in 1886, but the history of Liberty Island goes back to A.D. 994. The National Park Service has provided an extensive and informative history about this iconic island, from its beginning to present day.
  • The History of The Statue of Liberty – Did you know that the Statue actually sways in heavy winds? Look to this page for an annotated history, statistics, and timeline of the Statue of Liberty.
  • Statue of Liberty from History.com – This fantastic resource from History.com not only features the extended history of the Statue, including biographies of famous people and locations involved in its construction, but also offers videos, speeches, and photo galleries relating to the Statue.
  • Statue of Liberty History and Fun Facts – For more fun facts, precise Statue of Liberty measurements, history, and information about sightseeing tours, check out this page from the official home of New York City Vacation Packages.
  • Statue of Liberty National Monument – If you’re interested in finding out why the Statue was included as a World Heritage Site, or in understanding the historical context surrounding the Statue’s conception and construction, this page from the Global Mountain Summit has everything about the Statue that you could want to know.
  • Statue of Liberty – UNESCO provides the official Statement of Significance for the Statue of Liberty, as well as maps and documents about the National Monument.
  • 9 Facts That You Might Not Know – There’s much more to the Statue of Liberty than meets the eye. Find out some of her hidden secrets here!
  • Fun Facts About The Statue of Liberty – To find out how long the rays on the Statue’s crown are, or to see a visual diagram of the distance from the base of the pedestal to the torch, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. provides this inclusive web site.
  • Selected Views of the Statue of Liberty – The Statue of Liberty received a lot of press during its construction, and the Library of Congress has preserved postcards and photographs of the Statue during its earliest days in France and in New York Harbor.
  • History of Statue of Liberty - Follow the Statue from France to New York through the perspective of Frederic Bartholdi, and learn more about the Statue with this in-depth history from OhRanger.com.

For Kids

Abstract concepts like "liberty" and more complicated terms like "democracy" can be challenging for children to understand. These resources offer a kid-friendly alternative to dense history books, and include fun games, illustrations, and quizzes to help teach children about the Statue of Liberty.

  • The Light of Liberty – How was the Statue thought of? For the story of the Statue of Liberty, as well as some fun fast facts, check out this page from National Geographic Kids.
  • Statue of Liberty Fun Facts – To find out how Lady Liberty came to stand in New York Harbor, and for a poem about the Statue, read this article by KidzWorld.com.
  • The Statue of Liberty – FactMonster provides an excellent compilation of facts about the Statue of Liberty, along with a secret sonnet that is engraved on a tablet inside the pedestal.
  • The Building of the Statue of Liberty – The full history of the Statue of Liberty can be difficult to follow or understand. Social Studies for Kids has condensed it to an easy-to-understand, kid-friendly version.
  • The Statue of Liberty Song – Did you know that the Statue of Liberty actually has its own song? Listen to it and learn the lyrics here.
  • America’s Story: The Statue of Liberty – This fun resource from the Library of Congress takes kids on a chronological journey that explains how the enormous Statue came to stand in New York Harbor.

Lesson Plans

The Statue of Liberty is a great starting point for any educator to launch a Social Studies curriculum. Writing a lesson plan need not be intimidating, though - there are plenty of resources that include full lesson plans for all grades, as well as online resources, websites, and activity suggestions to help teachers construct the perfect plan for their class.

  • Statue of Liberty, Grades 4-9 – PBS has a lesson plan designed to teach students about the concept of liberty and to understand the way that the concept has shaped people and groups in American History. Activities and resources are provided.
  • Suggested Activities About the Statue of Liberty – This website from the National Endowment for the Humanities provides fun projects from grades K-12, as well as featured lessons about the Statue and Ellis Island.
  • Statue of Liberty Background Information & Activities – Geared towards elementary school students, BrainPop Jr. has several activity suggestions for classrooms and families to help children better understand the Statue of Liberty and its meaning to the American people.
  • The Lady Liberty Website – Written by students for students, this elementary and middle-school friendly tour of the Statue covers the symbolism, tourism, and planning of the Statue’s construction, and offers a fun quiz to test your knowledge.
  • Statue of Liberty Lesson Plans – This compilation of lesson plans offers over 300 teaching ideas, outlines, and resources for all grade levels.