History of the Statue of Liberty for Kids

Bedtime History

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In France lived a man named Edouard de Layboulaye. He was a history teacher and an expert on American History. He loved democracy and the American way of government. He wanted to show his support of liberty but needed to do it in a way he wouldn’t get in trouble with the emperor of his own country. He had the idea of France giving America a gift to celebrate liberty! Laynoulaye had a party in 1865 outside Paris that a sculptor named Frederic-Auguste Batholdi was also at. It is rumored that this is where the idea for the statue was born! Bartholdi loved to make HUGE statues; he was perfect for the job!

In 1870, Napoleon the emperor was no longer in power and Layboulaye knew it was time to start working on his gift to America. Maybe it would inspire France to make a democracy! FirstBartholdi took a trip to America. As he sailed into New York Harbor, he saw Bedloe Island. Right away he knew it was the perfect place to put the statue! While in America, Bartholdi traveled all over and met tons of people. Everyone loved him, but they still weren’t sure if they wanted the gift. But his visit definitely got them talking about it.

In 1876 a World Fair was held in Philadelphia. Bartholdi felt like this was the perfect place to get the word out about the statue, and having the hand and torch completed for people to see would really get people excited. There were exhibits about everything at the fair! From stuffed exotic animals to new inventions and cultural exhibitions, the fair was a fascinating place. While the hand and torch weren’t ready in May for the start of the fair, it was ready in August and it was a huge hit! For 50 cents people could climb a ladder in the forearm and stand on the balcony that went around the torch. Just the hand and torch was as tall as a 3-story building! When the fair ended in November, the hand and torch went to New York City and was placed in Madison Square Park for more than 5 years while the rest of the statue still needed to be built in Paris.

In 1877, all of Bartholdi’s hard work paid off and Congress voted to accept France’s gift. And, just like he was hoping, Bedloe’s island was chosen to be the statue’s home. The US government also agreed to build a pedestal, so the statue could have a strong base to stand on. It was going to be a very heavy statue! By the middle of 1880, Bartholdi had raised enough money for the statue’s construction, some of which was earned by putting the finished head on display in Paris and charging people to go up in it.

The final design of the Statue of Liberty had Liberty wearing a long gown called a stola and then over the top of that she wore a palla (which is kind of like a cape)- Bartholdi had dressed her like a Roman goddess! He had her right arm raised and her hand held a torch high. On her head, she wore a crown that has 7 rays to represent the 7 seas and 7 continents. It is rumored that Liberty’s face was modeled after Bartholdi’s own mother. At her feet was a broken shackle and chain that she is stepping over to symbolize her stepping toward freedom. In her left hand, she held a tablet with the date July 4, 1776 carved in roman numerals- This was the date celebrating America’s Independence!

To construct the internal skeleton, Bartholdi eventually turned to Gustave Eiffel. Eiffel was the architect who would later go on to build the Eiffel tower. And it really was like a skeleton, it was completely hollow, which would allow people to go up inside and tour the statue. 

Bartholdi chose to work with copper as his medium (A medium is the material that an artist uses). He chose copper from the advice he was given by his former teacher Eugene Viollet-le Duc. Copper was recommended because it was cheaper than other materials and it wasn’t as heavy. It also wouldn’t crack when it hammered into shape and then onto the skeleton. Because he was working with copper, he chose to work with Gaget, Gauthier & Cie, a metal workshop that was in Paris.

The workshop made models to shape the copper around, a process called repousse, which is French for “push back”. After that, they were attached to the skeleton Eiffel made. In order to shape the copper, they first had to heat the sheets, it would then be hammered around the mold. It took over 300 copper sheets to make the entire Statue of Liberty. In all, it was enough copper to make 30 million pennies! And she stood 151 feet tall!

In America, they were trying to get the money they needed to build the pedestal. By 1882 they had only raised around $80,000, and they need another $100,000. The committee asked the government for the rest of the money, but they said no! The wealthy members of the committee and other wealthy New York residents wouldn’t help, so it was up to the regular citizens everywhere to donate the needed money. So, in October 1883 to encourage donations, a man named Joseph Pulitzer promised to publish the name and donation amount of everyone who donated each day in his newspaper The World. That did the trick! In less than 5 months enough money had been raised to finish the pedestal. It was finally finished in April 1886.

Sadly, Laboulaye didn’t live to see the statue finished.He died in May of 1883. The work continued anyway! The statue was finished in 1884 and left France for New York a year later. It had to be taken apart before it left and had to be put back together in New York like a giant puzzle. Then on October 28, 1886 it was declared a holiday in New York City to celebrate the Statue of Liberty officially being finished. It was a big party!

In 1883 a woman named Emma Lazarus wrote a poem named “The New Colossus”. She wrote it because she was upset Jews in Russia were having to flee or risk being killed. As they fled Russia to seek safety in America,. Lazarus worked hard to help them. A friend found her poem after her death and felt that it fit the Statue of Liberty perfectly. The poem was put on a plaque and placed at the statue are a few lines of the poem:  

“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!”

More than 12 million immigrants passed by Liberty as they came to live in America for a better life between the years 1892 to 1954. Lazarus appropriately called her the “Mother of Exiles”.

In 1980 (almost 100 years after the statue was completed) it was discovered that many repairs were needed if she was going to survive another 100 years. Even though the statue was originally the color of a penny (orange-brown), the turquoise color that it is now doesn’t mean it is rusted. That color is a coating called patina, and it is a protective layer that the copper produced. After over 90 years of exposure to the seawater and weather the color is now permanent! The statue was also damaged throughout the years from many different things like pollution and birds and the internal skeleton was rusted. So a massive overhaul was done. 

The repairs were done in time for the Fourth of July celebration in 1986 and the statue was officially 100 years old! They called the huge celebration Liberty Weekend. There was a big street fair, lots of shows and famous singers. The current president, Ronald Reagan even spoke. 

It was a long journey from when Edouard de Layboulaye first dreamed up the idea of a symbol of freedom and Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi created the physical statue. Sometimes it seemed like the statue would never get to be built, but people believed in her and worked hard. And now the Statue of Liberty is known as a symbol of freedom all around the world.

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About Bedtime History

Bedtime History is a series of educational, relaxing stories for kids and families. Learn about inspirational characters such as Jackie Robinson, Sacajawea, Neil Armstrong, and Maya Angelou. Other topics include space exploration, current events, and great feats of engineering such as The Transcontinental Railroad.