The United States boasts a unique past. One of the most iconic symbols of this past sits just offshore in New York Harbor. Whether it's her origins or pop culture significance, there's plenty to learn about the Statue of Liberty, everyone's favorite monument to freedom.
She Wasn't a Gift From the French Government
The Statue of Liberty is often touted as a gift from France to the United States. However, the French government contributed nothing to its construction. The idea for a monument to celebrate the friendship of the two nations was initially proposed in 1865 by French professor Edouard de Laboulaye.
In 1875, Laboulaye became the president of a new civic group called the Franco-American Union. This exploratory committee determined that the French citizenry would pay for the statue itself, while the Americans would pay for the base.
Fundraising began immediately, with France raising its share of the needed funds by 1880. In all, the French raised more than 2 million francs for the statue. The finished statue was exhibited in Paris in 1884, where a deed was signed to bequeath it to the people of the United States. Unfortunately, once the statue had been disassembled and shipped to New York Harbor, it was found that the Americans had yet to raise enough funds to build the pedestal.
Among others, newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer came to the rescue. He publicized the project, solicited donations, and increased his own paper's circulation in the process. About $250,000 was raised, and, on October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland presided at the inauguration of the finished statue and pedestal.
Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel — Yes, that Eiffel — Designed Her Spine
Even prior to the building of his namesake tower, Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel was already one of France's leading structural engineers in the 19th century. Thus, he was a natural choice for the Statue of Liberty project, especially after the statue's original designer unexpectedly died. Thanks to Eiffel, the statue's interior boasts a more contemporary design.
Eiffel came up with the idea of a central spine in the statue, which functions as a connector for the various asymmetrical metal girders that give the statue its shape. This innovative technique not only provides the framework for the statue but also creates a kind of suspension system that allows the monument to withstand winds and other harsh weather conditions.
Its Full Name Is 'The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World'
Though she's often known simply as Lady Liberty, the monument's official name is "The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World." Lady Liberty represents not only the countries of France and the United States but also the seven continents of the world. You can see this in the seven rays on her crown.
She's Based on a Roman Goddess
No one would have questioned the American commitment to independence in the 18th century; it was the reason for the Revolutionary War, after all.
The Romans also valued liberty. They went as far as to worship liberty as a deity. Their Goddess of Freedom was named Libertas, and she had her own temple in Rome as far back as 238 B.C.
Often shown as a woman in a flowing robe, this image of Libertas was the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty's design. The goddess was no stranger to the realm of American iconography. She's featured on the New York State flag as well.
An Important Date Is Inscribed on Her Tablet
Visitors to the statue's crown may be able to see "JULY IV MDCCLXXVI" inscribed on the tablet in her left hand. This date — July 4, 1776 — refers to the day the United States adopted the Declaration of Independence, a move that inspired our French neighbors and led to a winning coalition during the American struggle for independence.
While the date is the only item inscribed on the statue itself, there's an important plaque mounted inside the pedestal. This plaque contains the text of the poem "New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus. The iconic lines — especially "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" — have become widely associated with the Statue of Liberty's invitation to immigrants from all over the world.
She Received a Face-Lift for Her Centennial Anniversary Celebration
For the 100th anniversary of the statue in 1986, Lady Liberty received much-needed renovations to transform her look. About $87 million dollars was raised for the effort. It was, in fact, the most successful public-private fundraising partnership in American history. Construction began in 1984. Workers repaired vulnerabilities in the statue's entire framework and replaced its rusting armature bars with stainless steel ones.
The statue's torch received the most pronounced face-lift. It was completely replaced by a 24-karat gold-plated replica in 1985. The original, which was made of copper and weighs 3,600 pounds, is now on display in the Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island.
Feature image credit: AcidTestPhoto/ iStock