Friday, July 4, 2008

9 Facts That You Might Not Know About the Statue of Liberty

It's Fun Friday -- time for some fun for the weekend. Enjoy today's post and I'll see you back here on Monday with more philatelic news and notes.

The first face that many late 19th and early 20th century immigrants to the United States saw upon entering her waters was that of the Statue of Liberty. Her solemn eyes and iconic countenance promises the hope of a new life for those leaving one of despair. As America welcomed the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses, our Lady Liberty, graciously given by the French over 120 years ago, has raised her torch as a beacon of hope for those New York bound passengers.

Formally called Liberty Enlightening the World, this world-renown statue has been a symbol of freedom throughout the world. And for millions of immigrants, she represented their new home, one filled with possibilities and yet, at the same time, fraught with anxiety. Many came penniless, or nearly so, hungry, and beaten down, longing for change and hoping upon hope that their tomorrows in this new land would outshine their yesterdays.

Here are some facts that you might not know about this great statue:

  • The statue was assembled twice. The statue was designed by Frenchman Auguste Bartholdi. After designing smaller scale working models, he and his crew built the full-size statue in Paris. Once fully built, the statue was disassembled, crated up, and shipped across the Atlantic for re-assembly in the United States.

  • Civil War General Sherman selected the statue's location. General William Tecumseh Sherman, Union leader during the U.S. Civil War who famously conducted his "march to the sea" to help end the war, was appointed to select the site for the statue. He chose Bedloe's Island, later renamed Liberty Island, as the location.

  • The statue functioned as a lighthouse. In 1886, U.S. President, Grover Cleveland, ordered that the statue serve as a lighthouse. After several failed attempts using the then-new electrical technology, the electric arc lights were eventually lit and were able to be seen from a distance of 24 miles away. The statue functioned as a lighthouse for the next 16 years, until March 1, 1902.

  • The statue was the tallest iron structure ever erected. In 1886, when the statue was assembled, Lady Liberty was the tallest iron structure ever built. Even though the outside is clad with copper sheets, an iron infrastructure was used to create the framework of the statue. Designed and created by Gustave Eiffel, the inner framework served as a sort of proving grounds for his later iron creation, the Eiffel Tower.

  • The copper "skin" is only 3/32ths of an inch thick. The copper cladding that covers the statue is surprisingly thin. Since the weight of the structure is carried by its internal framework, the metalsmiths were able to reduce the thickness of the copper. The copper sheets were originally 1/2-inch thick, but were hammered down the 3/32ths of an inch during construction, which is less than the thickness of 2 U.S. pennies.

  • The U.S. Congress once appropriated money to paint the statue. In 1906, the Congress of the United States voted to appropriate $62,000 to paint the statue. The original copper had started developing its beautiful blue-green patina, and some politicians were upset with the change. Public outcry kept the statue from being painted.

  • The copper patina is preserving the statue. Copper develops its patina as a result of exposure to air. Once the pristine copper has turned blue-green ("patinated") the patina serves to reduce further oxidation. Thus the patina serves to protect the copper from further deterioration. Studies have revealed that only the top 5% of the skin has oxidized in the first 100 years, with most of that occurring in the first 10-25 years through a process called early oxidation.

  • The flame has been changed three times. Bartholdi's original design of the flame was for it to be constructed of copper and clad in gold. Hoping to make it more of a navigational beacon, it was first changed so that portholes could be added and it could appear to be lit from within. When that idea failed, Gutzon Borglum, who later went on to design and create Mount Rushmore, made the second change by adding glass panels and copper framing. This design leaked terribly and caused further deterioration within the statue. Finally, as part of the 1986 restoration project, Bartholdi's original flame design was recreated and installed and is visible today.

  • Lady Liberty stands amidst broken shackles. Due to the placement of the statue, and the height of the pedestal, visitors cannot see Lady Liberty's feet. She is standing among a broken shackle and chains, symbolic of freedom from oppression that she represents.

I'm not sure if America has fulfilled every hope for all of the immigrants who first glanced Lady Liberty's torch, but I know that America tries to offer the best chance. America is a nation of immigrants. Over 300 million people call this land home and with the exception of a relatively small number of Native Americans, every single one of them is either an immigrant or descends from one. And even those Native Americans arrived to this land via the Bering Strait, so I suppose we all are immigrants.

Some other country may offer better health, while another country may offer nicer living conditions. Still, others may offer lower taxes, less crime, fewer politics, or greener grasses, but none seem to offer the kind of hope that extends from Liberty's uplifted torch and reaches its pinnacle in the heart and soul of the people of America. It is a hope that was best expressed by Emma Lazarus:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus" (1883)

Previous Fun Friday Posts


klaverhand said...

Strange you don't mention the statue was originally to be given to the state of Egypt.
As the French entered in unfriendly relationships with the Arab nation, the destiny changed.

Anonymous said...

Where was it that I read that the first US thing the immigrants saw was a pink elephant shaped hotel on Coney Island?

Anonymous said...

Hi there I enjoyed reading your 9 facts and thought you may like some clearer facts on the last fact.
check this link out.

Glorified Torah said...

The name of the designer of Mount Rushmore is ( Gutsom Borglum) I should know I grew up so close to Mount Rushmore I could see it from the roof of my house

Tony Servies said...

Thanks for the note about the sculptor's name. I think we both missed it, however. According to several sources (Wikipedia, PBS, Google, etc.), it is "Gutzon Borglum".

I'll make the correction. Thanks!

Parag said...

The torch that we see today is not the original torch of 1886. This torch was replaced during the 1984-86 restoration because restoration was found unsuitable. The original torch underwent major modifications in 1916. Today this torch is located in the Lady Liberty's lobby museum.
Statue of Liberty facts

Anonymous said...

Strange you did not say that the statue of liberty is green because of air and salt water

Anonymous said...

There were many interesting facts about the Statue of Liberty. It was very informative and easy to remember. Since today is 4th of July I will use these fun facts to tell my friends and family.
People who leave unfriendly messages are grotesque and they should appreciate your knowledge and the history you shared with us. You couldn't tell us everything about the statue and that is why you named your heading "9 facts...." you were like a teacher and taught me about the statue of liberty and how it symbolizes our American Freedom. God bless you!!!!

Anonymous said...

Strange you didn't mention that,
"The original model for the Statue of Liberty was a black woman, but the design was changed to appease white Americans who would not accept an African-American Liberty."

Tony Servies said...

Re: Anonymous ("The original model for the Statue of Liberty was a black woman ...")

I didn't, because this is a false story currently making the rounds. Snopes has dealt with it effectively at

Anonymous said...

You guys shouldn't always believe what you read

Anonymous said...

How do you know its false

Anonymous said...

Man are all of you guys Dorks

Anonymous said...

If it's on the internet it must be true

Anonymous said...

Thats definitely not true, so I think you better check your resources

Asiareynolds . said...

The Statue of Liberty was in fact an African American woman and the French designer did change most if it to appease the white Americans. The broken shackles represented the end of slavery the one piece he refused to change, the original Statue of Liberty is indeed in France. The only way you'll know rage truth is if you go see it though.

Anonymous said...

Kind of odd that you down played native americans as being immigrants too, they were on this continent thousands of years before it was "discovered" by European settlers. Lady Liberty was a slap in the face for the people who had true claim to the land that was robbed from them by greedy settlers. It was pushed as an invitation to WHITE EOUROPEAN IMMIGRANTS, not to Mexicans. Latinos, or Chinese.

Anonymous said...

The Statue of Liberty is a beautiful just the way she is. She doesn't need to be African or Mexican, etc. She's complete as European.

Anonymous said...

Um... that's what Oxidation is. So when they said oxidation it should not have to be explained.