In New York Harbor, there is a statue that stands as the symbol of freedom, hope, and liberty. She holds her torch high as a beacon welcoming people from distant shores, of different cultures and languages–immigrants who have come to America for a better life. The inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty contains the words written by Emma Lazarus that are as true today as they were when she first wrote them in 1883: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
Everyone living in the United States, with the exception of Native Americans, is the product of immigrants. Whether ancestors settled here several generations ago or whether someone is a newcomer, this great nation has offered hope and a better life to those escaping tyranny, religious and political persecution, and financial hardship. For generations, people have worked through personal and cultural difficulties for the greater good. This welcoming, stable presence, the statue of Lady Liberty, is visited by millions of people every year.
The monument was a gift from France to the U.S. in honor of two historic milestones: 100 years of friendship between the U.S. and France, and the centennial of America’s independence. Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, Frenchman Edouard de Laboulaye proposed a monument that represented democracy and freedom.
In 1870, the sculptor, Auguste Bartholdi, was selected to design the statue that would be called “Liberty Enlightening the World.” Fund-raising efforts in France and the U.S. were soon underway as France agreed to pay for the statue and the Americans would pay for the pedestal. The internal support structure was designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel following the unexpected death of his predecessor, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.
On the American side, the pedestal was designed in 1881 by architect Richard Morris Hunt, and its construction, under the leadership of General Charles P. Stone, began in 1883 on Bedloe’s Island, now called Liberty Island. That same year, Emma Lazarus wrote her poem, “The New Colussus,” to help raise needed funds for the pedestal. Funding was coming up short so in 1885, the publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, launched a fund-raising campaign that covered the remaining costs.
The statue was shipped in sections to the U.S. aboard the French naval ship, Isère. Crews made up mostly of immigrants reassembled it on Bedloe’s Island and the formal unveiling took place Oct. 28, 1886, with the dedication given by President Grover Cleveland. The celebration included New York’s first ticker tape parade, however, due to inclement weather, the planned fireworks were postponed until Nov. 1. The words of “The New Colossus” were not added to the base until 1903. A national monument since 1924, the statue became part of the National Park Service in 1933, and Bedloe’s Island was officially renamed Liberty Island in 1956.
Through the years, there have been various restorations and repairs, with the largest restoration taking place from 1982 to 1986 in preparation for its centennial. The Statue of Liberty has survived, regardless of political party, and continues to spread her message of hope to the world. The museum in the pedestal lobby focuses on how France and the U.S. worked together to build this monument to freedom.
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