Statue of Liberty Is Dedicated Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Conceived by historian French Édouard de Laboulaye and French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi as a centennial gift from France to the United States, the Statue of Liberty was meant to honor the two nations’ joint commitment to liberty. Funding difficulties in France and widespread apathy in America nearly destroyed Bartholdi’s dream, but the statue was built. It has come to be one of the most-recognized world monuments.

Summary of Event

The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in a ceremony highlighted by a two-hour parade and a flotilla in New York Harbor, with French and American flags lining the parade route and whistles, bands, and guns echoing across the city. Evoking painter Eugène Delacroix’s famous painting, Liberty Leading the People (1830), the statue’s designer, French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, called the statue Liberty Enlightening the World. In a light rain and fog, just after the curtain was dropped by Bartholdi before a crowd estimated in the thousands, U.S. president Grover Cleveland Cleveland, Grover [p]Cleveland, Grover;and Statue of Liberty[Statue of Liberty] reminded onlookers that the Statue of Liberty had made America its home. Statue of Liberty New York City;Statue of Liberty Sculpture;Statue of Liberty Bartholdi, Frédéric-Auguste Eiffel, Gustave [p]Eiffel, Gustave;and Statue of Liberty[Statue of Liberty] [kw]Statue of Liberty Is Dedicated (Oct. 28, 1886) [kw]Liberty Is Dedicated, Statue of (Oct. 28, 1886) [kw]Dedicated, Statue of Liberty Is (Oct. 28, 1886) Statue of Liberty New York City;Statue of Liberty Sculpture;Statue of Liberty Bartholdi, Frédéric-Auguste Eiffel, Gustave [p]Eiffel, Gustave;and Statue of Liberty[Statue of Liberty] [g]France;Oct. 28, 1886: Statue of Liberty Is Dedicated[5500] [g]United States;Oct. 28, 1886: Statue of Liberty Is Dedicated[5500] [c]Architecture;Oct. 28, 1886: Statue of Liberty Is Dedicated[5500] [c]Immigration;Oct. 28, 1886: Statue of Liberty Is Dedicated[5500] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Oct. 28, 1886: Statue of Liberty Is Dedicated[5500] Laboulaye, Édouard de Hunt, Richard Morris Pulitzer, Joseph [p]Pulitzer, Joseph;and Statue of Liberty[Statue of Liberty] Lazarus, Emma

Although conceived as a gift commemorating America’s centennial celebration, the statue was being unveiled a full ten years after the centennial, in part because many of New York’s most influential citizens, almost all of them in attendance that day, had given no support to the project. The statue’s genesis was twenty years earlier, in 1865, at a dinner party hosted by historian Édouard Laboulaye, Édouard de de Laboulaye. Laboulaye had written a three-volume set of books about the United States, so the diners began discussing America’s democracy, leading Bartholdi to envision a statue of Delacroix’s liberty painting as a monument to the joint commitment to democracy shared by France and the United States. The centennial of America’s independence was just a decade away, so some at the party suggested that a gift to America honoring its independence would be a gesture worthy of France.

Assembly of the Statue of Liberty in Manhattan before it was erected on Beloe’s Island. Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who designed the statue, appears in the inset photo.

(Library of Congress)

With his imagination set in motion by the conversation, Bartholdi traveled to New York and came home imagining a colossal statue, as big as the pyramids and sphinxes he had admired in Egypt, that would sit on a harbor island south of the city and offer a welcome to immigrants arriving in the United States. For Bartholdi, who had grown up seeing such monumental sculptures in France, the Statue of Liberty would have to be a work for the ages. The scope he envisioned was almost inconceivable, but the problem was not his ambition; it was the cost. Even with several successful fund-raising efforts in France, he and his supporters needed more than five years to collect the necessary funds for the statue.

Bartholdi secured the services of Gustave Eiffel to build an iron framework to support the copper skin of the sculpture. Eiffel was an architect and engineer who had built a number of brilliant iron bridges throughout France and would later build the Parisian tower that bears his name. By 1881, the first rivets were driven.

Across the Atlantic, things looked much bleaker. America had been expected to build the statue’s pedestal and foundation and provide for its upkeep, but even after Bartholdi toured the country with clay models of the statue and displayed the thirty-foot arm and torch at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Americans were so apathetic about the project that the money Bartholdi had hoped America would provide seemed out of reach. Newspapers mocked the idea and wealthy Americans refused to give even a token gift to the campaign. Even Congress failed initially to provide any funding.

Bartholdi’s friends in the United States set about trying to raise the money through small fund-raisers. At one event, an 1883 art auction in New York City, a young poet named Emma Lazarus, Emma Lazarus, who was active in Jewish causes and sympathetic to the plight of America’s immigrants, read a Petrarchan sonnet she had written for the occasion. The poem, entitled “The New Colossus,” offered an immigrant’s view of America, a vision of Liberty as the hope of the masses and champion of the oppressed.

Still, the money came slowly. Then, in 1884, Joseph Pulitzer, Joseph [p]Pulitzer, Joseph;and Statue of Liberty[Statue of Liberty] Pulitzer, the midwestern journalist and publisher of the New York World New York World;and Statue of Liberty[Statue of Liberty] , heard about the campaign. Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant who had arrived in the United States in 1864, had made a fortune in journalism and saw in the statue the possibility of swaying public opinion toward his paper by leading the efforts to raise money for the pedestal. With his considerable wealth and prestige behind the project, more than 100,000 donors came forward to provide the money, virtually one dollar at a time. Within five months, the necessary funding was raised and Richard Morris Hunt Hunt, Richard Morris , the premier architect in America at that time, was commissioned to build the pedestal.

The statue was completed in France in July of 1884, dismantled into 350 individual pieces, packed in 214 crates, and shipped to New York on board the French frigate Isere. Liberty was reassembled on its new pedestal during a four-month period, and, on October 28, 1886, the statue was dedicated in front of thousands of spectators. At the ceremony, no one read, or even mentioned, “The New Colossus.” Emma Lazarus Lazarus, Emma died the following year at the age of thirty-eight. In 1903, with no ceremony or even a public announcement, a plaque was affixed to the pedestal. Engraved on the plaque was “The New Colossus.”


The Statue of Liberty has become a worldwide symbol of freedom. Rising 151 feet, the statue stands on an eighty-nine-foot pedestal rising out of the sixty-five-foot-high paved promenade that was once Fort Wood. Smaller versions of the statue have been built across Europe, including a thirty-six-foot bronze replica on the Seine River in Paris, a gift to the French from the Paris American Colony in 1889. Perhaps most inspirational, however, is a thirty-three-foot Styrofoam statue inspired by Liberty that was built by protesting Chinese students in Tiananmen Square in Beijing Beijing;Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989, a statue the students called “Goddess of Democracy.”

The Statue of Liberty acquired an enhanced emotional power as a symbol of freedom when, in 1890, President Benjamin Harrison Harrison, Benjamin [p]Harrison, Benjamin;and immigration[Immigration] ordered the first federal immigration station built on nearby Ellis Island Ellis Island . When the station opened on January 1, 1892, a fifteen-year-old Irish girl named Annie Moore became the first of more than twelve million immigrants to be processed over the next sixty-two years. Celebrating her birthday that day, the girl was given a ten-dollar coin by immigration officials with the image of Liberty stamped on its face. After that day, more than three generations of immigrants coming to America by ship would be welcomed to the nation’s shores by Liberty’s unforgettable image.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson Johnson, Lyndon B. declared Ellis Island part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. In 1984, the statue underwent an $87 million restoration, and on July 5, 1986, it reopened in a worldwide celebration of the statue’s centennial.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coan, Peter M. The Ellis Island Interviews. New York: Facts On File, 1998. A compilation of interviews with immigrants arriving at nearby Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924, along with a brief biographical account of their experiences after getting settled. The Statue of Liberty makes an appearance in a number of accounts, including comedian Bob Hope’s explanation of the statue’s role in his theme song, “Thanks for the Memory.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gordh, George. “Emma Lazarus: A Poet of Exile and Freedom.” Christian Century 103 (November 19, 1986): 1033-1036. A careful reading of Lazarus’s poetry, which the author finds imbued with a religious sensibility. “The New Colossus” is discussed at length.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grigsby, Darcy Grimaldo. “Geometry/Labor = Volume/Mass?” October 106 (2003): 3-34. Examines the importance of geometric design and empty space in Eiffel’s work on the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, and other projects. Appropriate for both specialists and nonspecialists.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kaplan, Peter B., and Lee Iacocca. Liberty for All. Wilmington, Del.: Miller, 2004. A celebration of the statue’s history and 1986 renovation through Kaplan’s three hundred close-up and behind-the-scenes photographs and Iacocca’s lively accounts from his perspective as head of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Moreno, Barry. The Statue of Liberty. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2004. A brief and sometimes romanticized history of the statue written by a historian with the Ellis Island Museum.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Statue of Liberty Encyclopedia. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. A comprehensive reference work, well researched and well documented, and beautifully illustrated with photographs, paintings, drawings, posters, cartoons, and other documents. Extensively cross-referenced and includes an extraordinary number of fascinating but little-known details about the statue’s design and history.

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Brooklyn Bridge Opens

Eiffel Tower Is Dedicated

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Categories: History