Keeper of the Flame: Lady Liberty

This giant statue represents Liberty throwing off the shackles and holding a beacon to light the world. Its full name is "Liberty enlightening the World", and it an icon of all things American and it became a symbol of hope for thousands of European immigrants who arrived in New York harbour at the beginning of the century.

Keeper of the Flame: Lady Liberty

History Facts

Where: New York Harbour, East Coast USA
When: Constructed in 1871, unveiled in 1886
History: A symbol of independence and liberty between “the two sisters” of America and France


This giant statue represents Liberty throwing off the shackles and holding a beacon to light the world. Its full name is “Liberty enlightening the World”, and it an icon of all things American and it became a symbol of hope for thousands of European immigrants who arrived in New York harbour at the beginning of the century. The statue is one of the world’s top tourist sights attracting more than 2 million tourists each summer. So if you are planning to visit, be prepared to put up with the crowds. Come early so that you don’t have to waste a whole day waiting in line. The brilliant gold-ginger copper soon eroded to the now familiar pastel sea-green, and huge amounts of money have been spent recently restoring the original torch light to be gilded in gold leaf. You have to climb a massive 354 steps from the ground to the crown. If you arrive after the first boat in the summer, you won’t get any further than the base. Situated in liberty island, it’s free to visit the statue but the snag is you have to pay for the ferry to get you there, which costs $7 US.

What’s the History?

America won its independence from Britain mainly with the assistance of the French who provided manpower and arms to the American colonies. The two nations shared an allegiance of respect and friendship from America’s independence in the 18th century.

100 years later, sculptor and intellectual Bartholdi, who opposed the regime of Napoleon III, admired the American’s success in democratic government. After many drinks at a party, he talked with his fellow intellectuals about the love of liberty the two nations share, and they called their nations “the two sisters”. The American independence centennial was 11 years away, and it was at this party that they sparked the idea of presenting the American nation a lasting monument of their independence and human liberty.

The sculptor Batholdi’s father died when he was a baby, and he was raised solely but his possessive and stern mother, Charlotte. Liberty has strange Freudian connections as the French sculpture Bartholdi is thought to have based the design on the face of his mother and body of his lover.

Reflecting the spirit of classical Greek and Roman Civilisations, the statue is constructed in a typical neo-classical style popular in the 19th century. The Sphinx may also have been a source of inspiration from Batholdi’s trip to Egypt, as a way of uniting the old and the new worlds. It was in Egypt that Bartholdi met and was awed by the enthusiasm of engineer Marie de Lessepswho had a vision of constructin a canal across the desert, which was later realised in the Suez Canal. The design of Liberty is based on a robed Egyptian peasant with light like a halo bursting from her crown and torch thrust towards the heavens.

Tempting the New World

In 1871, Bartholdi sailed from France to America to find a site for the statue and “sell” the idea to the Americans. He found the perfect spot even before he landed on the shores, on an island outside of the bay. He was amazed by the majesty and size of the ‘New World’, and commented that “everything in America is big… even the peas are big.” He carried with him a sketch of the future statue and a small model to promote the project. It took another 3 years for a compromise to be made – the French would pay for the making of the statue, and the American would pay for the pedestal and installation. A joint committee was established to raise the funds, with various celebratory galas, operas and events.

Bartholdi and his team began work on Liberty, hoping funds would come in before the centennial anniversary. The framework of the statue was made by another famous Frenchman,Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, who would later go on to make the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris.

It soon became clear that with time and money constraints, the statue would not be completed for the centennial – but Bartholdi hoped to complete the arm and torch to display for then. These were installed in 1876, and voyeurs paid $0.50 (a lot of money then) to climb a ladder to see the torch. By 1878 “my daughter Liberty”, as the sculptor lovingly referred to her, was still a lady late, so the fundraising committee decided to have a lottery to raise the final funds.

Crossing the Ocean

It wasn’t until 1885 that Liberty was finally complete and ready to face her journey across the Atlantic.
Meanwhile, the Americans had not yet raised the funds to complete the project and public criticism of the project was high. Newspaper owner Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant who found his fame and fortune in the new lands, took control when he realised that by funding Liberty he could also increase the circulation of his own newspaper. He sold the idea of Liberty as a statue of the people and taunted the rich, thereby popularising his papers amongst the working classes. He promised to publish the name of every single person who contributed a cent to the project, no matter how big or small the donation. The money began to pour in, from piggybanks to high street banks. By the time the girl Liberty had arrived on America’s shores, the goal of $100,000 had been met.

October 28th 1886 was declared a public holiday, and on this foggy day, a huge French tricolour flag was unveiled by Senator William Evarts, to reveal a brilliant display of shiny golden copper and a giant 1000ft goddess – known as Liberty. The office boys in the city who were still working unreeled their spool of ticker tape as the massive parade snaked through the city, giving rise to the New York ticker-tape parade. Only 2 women were invited to the official ceremony, prompting protests from suffragettes who circled the statue shouting abuse through megaphones.

At the time, this was the tallest structure in New York, totalling 1000 ft. Although no longer the tallest, Liberty is very much the visual focus of New York Harbour. In 1903 a tablet was fastened to the pedestal of Liberty, with the words of a poem, The New Colossus, used as a credo for immigrants to America.

The statue has since become ingrained in American culture, and images of Liberty were used as a rallying tool to raise funds for World War I. In 1924, the Statue was declared a national monument. In 1986, America threw a massive party for that Statue where President Reagan declared “We are the keepers of the flame of liberty; we hold it high for the world to see.” A spectacular firework and light show gave Liberty a 100th birthday she will never forget.



The Two Sisters
Fantastic history of Liberty, and the people involved in her creation.

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