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A short history of Lady Liberty

The most famous female in American history was born at a Parisian dinner party. Late one night in 1865, according to Frederique-August Bartholdi (the genius who eventually designed the Statue of Liberty) a group of French intellectuals were lamenting the lack of democracy in France.  Napoleon III was the autocratic head of state, and the men at the table voiced their admiration for the US, which had just emerged from the civil war with its republic intact. Bartholdi later wrote that Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye, a noted scholar and jurist, suggested that the French should make a grand gesture: give the people of the US an enormous statue to commemorate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence. The statue would symbolize the long friendship between the two nations; and show, he hoped, that the French value human liberty as much as the Americans.

It took over 20 years of intense labor, and the participation of some of the biggest names of the 19th century, to turn this wine-launched idea into a reality. The biggest problem was money. It was decided that the French and the Americans would share the cost of the massive statue (which was to be larger than the legendary Colossus of Rhodes) with the French paying for the statue itself, and the Americans funding the construction of an appropriate base. In 1875 (after the Third Republic was founded in France, making it easier to get such a "pro-democracy" project off the ground), the Franco-American Union was formed with members from both nations dedicated to raising money for the project.

But while the French were moving ahead with their half of the bargain, money raising in the US had ground to a halt. In the grips of a deep depression, many in the States felt the project was frivolous. Congress scuttled a bill to appropriate $100,000 for the base and the Governor of New York vetoed a grant of $50,000. Bartholdi had journeyed to America to scout out a place for the base and enlist the help of such luminaries as President Ulysses S. Grant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Horace Greeley, and Senator Charles Sumner but for the most part, America's more affluent citizens turned their back on the project.

Enter a young newspaper publisher named Joseph Pulitzer. Pulitzer felt that he could help create this great monument, and also raise the profile of his fledgling newspaper, the World. He called upon his readers, mostly recent immigrants, to champion the statue and excoriated the richer citizens, in fire-breathing editorials, for their selfishness. Promising that every single donor who sent in money to the newspaper would have his named printed in the World—no matter how small the donation—Pulitzer swiftly raised $100,000 for the project (thanks to more than 120,000 individual contributions) and increased the circulation of the World by almost 50,000 copies. Architect Richard Morris Hunt could finally pour the 24,000 tons of concrete (the largest single mass ever to be poured at that time) to create the base.

On October 28, 1886 (11 years late) the statue was “unveiled” with Bartholdi, members of the Franco-American committee and Joseph Pulitzer in attendance. In 1903, a bronze plaque with Emma Lazarus' poem The New Colossus inscribed upon it was attached to the pedestal, and ever since the Statue has presided over the harbor, as both a symbol of enlightenment and welcome to the millions of immigrants and visitors who have sailed beneath her upraised torch.