NYC Landmarks: All About the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is an important landmark in the United States. For more than 130 years, Lady Liberty has stood proudly on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. Given as a gift from France in 1886, the Statue of Liberty represents the core American belief in freedom in the United States. Her official name is Liberty Enlightening the World, and she does so with her flame held high for the world to see. The statue was the first thing many immigrants would see as they approached New York after their journey across the Atlantic Ocean. For this reason, the statue is seen as a beacon of hope for people and a representation of the better life many have sought in the United States.

Statue of Liberty History

Édouard René de Laboulaye, the president of the French Anti-Slavery Society, was the one who had the idea for the Statue of Liberty. He supported the Union during the American Civil War, and he saw the Union victory as a win for freedom and democracy.

The project was officially announced in September of 1875. Construction began with the torch and head. The torch was displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, part of a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The head was completed and displayed at the Paris World's Fair in 1878. Atop her head is a crown with seven points to represent the seven continents and the seven seas.

As part of an agreement with France, the United States supplied the pedestal on which the statue stands. Funding for the pedestal was running thin when publisher Joseph Pulitzer led a drive to generate money. The drive attracted 120,000 people to donate.

The remainder of the statue was built over the next several years. It was finally dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886. Because of the size of the statue, it had to be built in several smaller pieces. The statue is made of copper placed on a frame of cast iron and stainless steel. The frame was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who also built the Eiffel Tower in France. The copper plates are only about as thick as two pennies placed together. The statue's green color is the result of natural oxidation of the copper. Over the years, this process changed the statue from a brown, penny-like color to the green color we see today.

Lady Liberty stands on a pedestal 89 feet tall, which itself is atop a foundation 65 feet tall. Altogether, from the base of the foundation to the top of her torch, she stands an impressive 305 feet tall. This is about the height of a 30-story building.

The statue was repaired and restored between 1984 and 1986. For two years, construction crews worked to repair the iron frame inside the statue, fix holes in the copper exterior, and replace the torch.

Cultural Impact of the Statue

Lady Liberty's greatest cultural impact was for immigrants entering the country at Ellis Island. Between 1892 and 1954, Ellis Island was the entry point for more than 12 million immigrantshoping to make a better life in America. Ships entering the bay to reach Ellis Island would first have to pass by Liberty Island (then called Bedloe's Island), where the statue would greet them.

Emma Lazarus's sonnet The New Colossus, originally written in an effort to raise money for the statue's pedestal, memorializes the impact of the statue on the lives of immigrants coming into the country. The sonnet's line, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," is often viewed as a welcoming of immigrants to the United States and the promise of a better life here.

The Statue of Liberty Today

Today, the statue is owned and operated by the National Park Service. It is one of the most popular NYC tourist destinations and attracts around 4 million visitors each year. Liberty Island is accessed by a ferry in New York Harbor. People come from around the world for the opportunity to climb to the top.

There are 354 stairs that spiral up through the inside of the statue to allow people to access the statue's crown. Although there is a small staircase to get there, access to the torch ended in 1916. Tickets are needed to walk up to the crown, and only 240 people are allowed to do this each day, so planning ahead and buying tickets early is helpful when visiting the statue.

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