One of the most recognisable icons in the world, New York’s Statue of Liberty stands 46 metres tall on Liberty Island, at the entrance to New York Harbour. This enduring symbol of American freedom and independence was actually a gift from France, built in part by the designer of the Eiffel Tower, Gustave Eiffel.
Image via wikipedia
After the French and Americans agreed in 1875 that the giant statue would be funded by the French, with its plinth being paid for by America, work began. Depicting the Roman goddess Libertas, the statue’s torch-holding hand and crowned head were completed first, and put on display in various places to boost publicity and funding.
Image via wikipedia
The statue had been designed by young sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi (seen on the left here) as a way of displaying the ties between the French Third Republic and the republic of the United States. Rumours in France suggested Bartholdi had modelled the face of the statue on his wife, and its body on his mother!
Brilliant French engineer Gustave Eiffel (here on the right) designed the internal structure of the statue so the external skin could flex in the wind, and also contract and expand in extreme temperatures. An interior framework of iron formed one of the first examples in the world of curtain wall construction, where the exterior ‘skin’ is not load bearing at all.
The statue was assembled entirely in Paris before being dismantled and shipped to New York for reassembly.
Image by Shelley Panzarella
With funding drying up in New York for the construction of the statue’s plinth, other American cities such as Philadelphia and Boston offered to give Lady Liberty a home. However, after a huge newspaper campaign, the generosity of over 120,000 individual donors in New York ensured work on the base of the statue could be completed. The entire structure was completed and dedicated on October 28, 1886.
Image by S J Pinkney
The Statue of Liberty carries a torch, symbolising the burning flame of progress and liberty enlightening the world, and a tablet inscribed with the date of America’s Declaration of Independence. The statue also stands on a broken chain, depicting the end of slavery.
Image by eschipul
Extensive renovation took place, beginning in 1984 and being completed in July 1986 for the statue’s centennial. The outer skin was repaired and cleaned, and the torch was replaced with an exact replica of Bertholdi’s original. Eiffel’s iron bars in the armature were replaced with low-carbon stainless steel, and a new lighting system was installed.
The Statue of Liberty is now open to a limited number of visitors, who can climb up as far as the viewing platform in Liberty’s crown. With many tourists taking advantage of cheap flights to New York these days, it’s worth planning a visit to the statue early to make sure you get in!
Top image by laverrue