The Statue of Liberty arrived at its permanent home at Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor on June 19, 1885, aboard the French frigate Isere. A gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States, the 151-foot-tall statue was created to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. Designed by sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi and officially titled Liberty Enlightening the World, the Statue of Liberty has symbolized freedom and democracy to the nation and to the world for well over a century.
Sometimes known as Lady Liberty, the statue is constructed of hand-shaped copper sheets, assembled on a framework of steel supports designed by engineers Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. For transit to America, the figure was broken down into 350 separate pieces and packed in 214 crates. The Statue of Liberty sits within the star-shaped walls of the former Fort Wood, rising to a height of 305 feet on a pedestal designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt. The pedestal was built using funds raised by the American people through benefits, charity auctions, and individual donations—some as small as a few pennies each.
The Statue of Liberty faces to the east, greeting incoming ships upon their arrival while also looking back toward her birthplace in France. President Grover Cleveland dedicated the statue on October 28, 1886, before thousands of spectators. With the 1892 opening of the nearby Ellis Island Immigration Station, Bartholdi’s Liberty would welcome more than 12 million immigrants to the United States. Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Colossus,” originally composed in 1883 as part of the national fundraising effort, was affixed to the statue’s pedestal in 1903. Its poignant lines celebrate America’s role as a haven to peoples of the world in search of freedom:
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.
For his 1949 Broadway musical Miss Liberty, Irving Berlin, himself an immigrant from Russia, set music to Emma Lazarus’s iconic poem. It is the only song in the Irving Berlin canon for which he used someone else’s words.
The Statue of Liberty, now weathered to a vibrant copper green, has been iconic since its first conception, and continues to be recognized as a national, and international, landmark. Her image is borrowed widely: from souvenirs and postcard; to editorial cartoons, sheet music External, and war bond posters; to yard art; to Hanukkah menorahs and Halloween costumes. First designated a monument in 1924 and transferred to the National Park Service’s care in 1933, the Statue of Liberty National Monument’s boundaries expanded in 1956 to include both the renamed Liberty Island and Ellis Island within a single site. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site External in 1984, the Statue of Liberty underwent a major restoration for its own centennial, in 1986.
- Twelve years after the statue’s installation, Thomas Edison’s motion picture company filmed the Statue of Liberty. This film is available online through The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906. Browse the list of film titles to find other views of the city at the turn of the century.
- By World War I, the Statue of Liberty was firmly established as an American icon. Search World War I Sheet Music and Historic American Sheet Music External on Statue of Liberty to examine sheet music illustrated with images of Lady Liberty. See, for example, “Good-Bye Broadway, Hello France External” published in 1917.
- See selected newspaper articles about the Statue of Liberty in Chronicling America. Search on Statue of Liberty, Lady Liberty, Bartholdi, and Bedloe’s Island to find more early articles.
- Search on the term Bartholdi in the collection Making of AmericaExternal to find articles concerning the “Bartholdi Colossus.” Read, for example, a brief article titled “The Inauguration of Bartholdi’s Liberty Statue” that the journal Manufacturer and Builder carried in its November 1886 issue. Search the same collection on the name Lazarus to learn more about the poet’s interest in immigration issues.
- Read about other New York City landmarks in Today in History, including the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Radio City Music Hall, and New York Public Library. Search the collection on “New York City” for even more.
- The Library’s collections include many additional images of the landmark statue. To find them, search across the collections featuring Photos, Prints on the term Statue of Liberty.