The Statue of Liberty , a French-American dream

The French Connection

The American Revolution (1775-1783) was only made possible with the help of the French, who very actively supported the rebels with money, equipment, weapons, ships and troops.

The reason for the French support was of course the humiliating defeat in the French and Indian War, and the loss of their overseas territories. The Marquis de Lafayette was a personal friend of George Washington, and he held a prominent position in the US Army.

In 1865, nearly one hundred years after the Revolution, in France several intellectuals gathered at a dinner of Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye. He opposed the regime of Napoleon III, and was a staunch supporter of the French Republic. They praised the American Revolution, that had liberated the Americans from the British yoke.

One of the guests was Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, born in Colmar, France (Alsace) in 1834, a sculptor who made massive statues in a neo-classical Greco-Roman style. This meeting led him to consider a Franco-American initiative to honor the struggle for freedom. The idea of Lady Libertas was born !

In 1870 the Franco-Prussian war started, and it humiliated France once more. Furthermore, Germany annexed Alsace, where Bartholdi lived.

In 1871, he traveled to the US with letters of introduction from de Laboulaye for President Ulysses S. Grant and other influential persons. When he entered the port of New York, he immediately discovered the ideal location for his sculpture ; Bedloe's Island ! During his visit he made extensive promotion for his statue, but he didn't obtain any financial support or an authorization for his initiative.

In 1875, the French Revolution established "la Troisième République " in France, and the project of de Laboulaye and Bartholdi was taking shape. A Franco-American committee was formed for the project. The statue would be funded by France, and the pedestal by the USA.

Birth of a Statue

Bartholdi chose the technique of the "Repoussé", whereby a plate, made of a mixture of copper and bronze, is hammered onto a wooden form.

The whole statue would be made up of some 200 plates, which could then be welded together. The iron skeleton was designed by the brilliant engineer Alexandre Auguste Eiffel, who would later design the Eiffel Tower. It would be 46 meters high, weigh 225 tons, and there would be 354 steps to the crown.

The initiative was there, but it seemed impossible to obtain financial support from the government. The Committee then organized a lottery to raise funds for the construction of the statue, and in 1879 they managed to raise 250,000 francs (approx. 750,000 $). In 1884 the statue was finished, and one year later it was shipped to the US. However, on the other side of the ocean there was a similar lack of funds for the construction of the pedestal...

Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant who had fought in the Civil War and later married a wealthy American, joined the American section of the Committee as Fund Raiser. He owned two newspapers and he thought the initiative would be a brilliant publicity stunt to increase the circulation of his newspapers. In his editorial he disapproved of the wealthy American elite who refused to contribute, and simultaneously presented his newspapers as representative of the working class...

Another brilliant idea was the publication of every donor's name in the newspaper ! In one year time he increased the circulation of his newspaper by 50,000 copies, and managed to raise 100,000 $ from 120,000 donations. This was sufficient for the construction of the granite pedestal, which was 27 meters high. More than 24,000 tonnes of concrete were poured, the single largest mass of concrete in the world at that time.

The Statue of Liberty

On October 28, 1886, the work was completed and one million people showed up to admire the statue ! A special parade of 20,000 people was organized, that would walk through the streets of New York. Wall Street was the only industry that worked on this day, and hundreds of office boys threw pieces of the stock market's "ticker tape" through the windows, to brighten up the parade. And that was the birth of the New York Ticker Tape Parade !

Many personalities were involved in the official unveiling of the statue, and also present were many of America's wealthiest families, who actually hadn't wanted to subsidize the project...

The monument became the highest monument in New York with 305 feet, and only in 1899 it was dethroned by the construction of St Paul's building with 310 feet. In 1924 the statue was declared a national monument.

Video : The Statue of Liberty

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