The Hidden History of the Statue of Liberty

statue of liberty

It’s one of the most famous landmarks in the entire world. Standing guard in New York Harbor since 1886, the iconic Statue of Liberty has been one of New York City’s and America’s most treasured symbols for well over a century now. But did you know the statue actually has a very tumultuous history and, almost unbelievably, was almost never built? Here’s a quick look at the hidden history of the famed Statue of Liberty.


The genesis of the Statue of Liberty goes back to 1865 when French sculptor Frederic Bartholdi and antislavery activist Edouard Rene de Laboulaye met and decided that a monument should be created to recognize the upcoming centennial anniversary of the United States. Inspired by the idea, Bartholdi took to creating models for a new statue designed to symbolize American liberty, freedom and democracy. Dubbed “Liberty Enlightening the World,” the statue incorporated heavy symbolism such as a torch intended to symbolize the spread of liberty and a crown with seven points as a symbol of the sun, seven continents and seven seas.

Fundraising and Planning

In 1875, the Franco-American Union was formed as a joint fundraising body between France and the United States to fund both the statue and the proposed pedestal for it. By 1876, only the torch of the statue had been completed by Bartholdi, but its display at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia helped to spark new interest in the project. In 1877, the United States formally accepted the future statue and decided that Bedloe’s Island – now Liberty Island – in New York Harbor should be the site of the colossus.


The Statue of Liberty finally began full construction in Paris in 1877 with the help of engineer Gustave Eiffel as French fundraising continued. However, both the United States Congress and New York State rejected funding proposals for the statue’s proposed pedestal, imperiling the entire project. Wanting to see the project through, Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World newspaper, announced a private fundraising drive in which he promised to print the names of individuals who donated in his newspaper. The funding drive was hugely successful as more than 120,000 people donated to the cause, raising enough funds to complete the pedestal.

Dedication to Today

In 1885, the completed statue was disassembled in Paris and shipped to New York City. The massive statue was assembled atop the newly-completed pedestal on Bedloe’s Island as famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead supervised the cleanup of the island. The statue was finally dedicated on October 28, 1886 with Bartholdi and President Grover Cleveland in attendance. The city’s first ticker tape parade was held for the occasion, marking a new tradition in New York City. The statue soon became a symbol for immigrants arriving in New York City at the turn of the 20th century and was named a National Monument in 1924 and New York City landmark in 1976. Even today, more than a century after its completion, the Statue of Liberty remains one of the most celebrated and iconic landmarks in the entire world.