“The great social adventure of America is no longer the conquest of the wilderness but the absorption of fifty different peoples.” Walter Lippman 1889-1974, U.S. Journalist.
Since 1886, the Statue of Liberty has stood as a symbol of freedom in the New York harbor, welcoming more than 12 million immigrants between 1892 and 1954. Today they keep coming. In the past, the largest waves of immigration were a result of overpopulation or poverty in the country of origin. Emigrants from Europe, where modern population explosion began in the 17th centery, settled down in the Western Hemisphere, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Africa. Other immigrants came from the British Isles, NW and South and Eastern Europe. The Asian immigration did not begin until the mid 19th centery. Why do people leave their country, their homes, their family and culture to come to America? The inscription on the tablet on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty may hold the answer. This inscription is probably one of the world’s most famous poems. Philanthropist Emma Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” in 1883.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lighting, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “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!”
She’s a French Lady!
A great lady with a great message! The Statue of Liberty stands 151 feet tall lifting her torch for freedom, lighting the way for the new immigrants seeking a new home and future. She represents American democracy; our once genuine desire to welcome people in search of a better life. But the irony is, that Miss Liberty is not even American – she is French! She was a gift from the French government. At the time, the American congress did not want to pay for the pedestal she stands on. So much for that warm welcome! If it hadn’t been for Joseph Pulitzer she would not have had anywhere to stand…literally.
French historian Edouard de Laboulaye was a great admirer of the American political institution, and he suggested that France should present a monument to the United States. The U.S. only needed to supply the place and a pedestal. Designer Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1004) visualized a colossal statue at the entrance of New York harbor, welcoming the peoples of the world with the torch of liberty.
Congress loved the idea, and on George Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1877, approved the site to be on Bedloe’s Island, which Bartholdi had suggested. The small island of 12 acres had been owned in the 17th century by a Walloon named Isaac Bedloe. (It was renamed “Liberty Island” in 1956.)
Bartholdi finished his work on the statue on May 21, 1884. It was formally presented to the U.S. Minister Morton on July 4, 1884, by Ferdinand de Lesseps, head of the Franco-American Union, who was also promoter of the Panama Canal and built the Suez Canal. On August 5, 1884, the Americans laid the corner-stone for the pedestal, but required over $250,000 to complete the work. It was to be built on the foundations of Fort Wood, which had been erected by the Government in 1811. The American Committee raised $125,000, but this was not enough. However, Congress refused to fund the “Liberte’ Eclairant le Monde”. The press stepped in.
Pulitzer, owner of the New York World, appealed on March 16, 1885, for general donations, and by August 11, 1885 the necessary $100,000 was raised.
The statue arrived dismantled, in 214 packing cases, from Rouen, France, in June 1885. It took over a year to put the statue together. The last rivet was placed on October 28, 1886, when President Grover Cleveland dedicated the monument. Emma Lazarus’ famous words were inscribed on the pedestal in 1903.
The Statue of Liberty weighs over 450,000 lbs. or 225 tons. Her copper sheeting alone weighs 200,000 lbs. There are 167 steps from the land level to the top of the pedestal, 168 steps inside the statue to the head, and 54 rungs on the ladder leading to the arm that holds the torch. Two years of restoration work was completed before the centennial celebration on July 4, 1986. This multi-million dollar project included replacing the 1,600 wrought iron bands that hold the copper skin to the her frame, replacing her torch, and installing an elevator taking you to the top of her head. A $2.5 million building, housing the American Museum of Immigration was opened by President Richard Nixon on September 26, 1972 at the base of the statue.
A four-day extravaganza of concerts, tall ships, ethnic festivals, and fireworks celebrated her 100th anniversary. The festivities included Chief Justice Warren E. Burger’s swearing-in of 5,000 new American citizens on Ellis Island, while 20,000 others across the country were simultaneously sworn in through a satellite telecast. The ceremonies continued on October 28, 1986, the statue’s 100th birthday.
The “Statue of Liberty National Monument” is administered by the National Park Service. It houses a permanent exhibition of photos, posters, and artifacts depicting the history of American immigration.