Happy Birthday, Statue of Liberty!

The statue, whose official name is Liberty Enlightening the World,  turns 125 on Friday.

Designed by Frederic Bartholdi, the Statue of Liberty has become a symbol not only for freedom and democracy in the United States, but for the goal of freedom and democracy in every nation, and for the aspiration of a dignified and full life for every person in the world.

French Law Professor/Politician Édouard René de Laboulaye inspired Bartholdi, who commented in 1865 that any monument in honor of American independence should be supported by both the people of France and the people of the United States.

However, contrary to popular belief, the Statue of Liberty was not universally backed or accepted after the idea of a statue was proposed as a gift of friendship to the people of the United States from the people of France in the 1860s.

In a nutshell, the United States side had trouble raising money for the project, with the nation charged with the task of raising funds for the statue's pedestal. By 1885, work on the pedestal was in doubt, due to lack of funds.

Lady Liberty's Pedestal: Funded by the People

Major contributors balked at the project. So many big donors shied away that Publisher Joseph Pulitzer -- yes, that same person for whom the journalism's highest award, the Pulitzer Prize -- would be named after -- of the New York World, started a donation drive to fund the pedestal.

To say the least, Pulitzer's drive took hold with the public -- and more than 120,000 people donated to the pedestal fund.

The statue was shipped to the U.S. in crates, assembled, and dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886.

The City of New York held its first ticker-tape parade in honor of the dedication, which was presided over by President Grover Cleveland.  

The statue is 301 feet (93 meters) high, ground-to-torch, with the statue portion 151 feet in height, sitting atop the 150-foot pedestal.

Since 1931 the Statue has been administered by the National Park Service on Liberty Island in Upper New York Harbor, in New York City, N.Y.

Icon of Freedom and Democracy, the Golden Door, and Mother of Exiles

With the start of the industrial revolution in the 19th century and the accompanying two, major immigration waves to the United States, where most immigrants traveled by ship, arriving in the country through Ellis Island -- the nation's busiest immigration inspection station in the same harbor nearby -- the statue became the first physical sign of their hope for a better tomorrow in the new world. In other words, the statue said, We've arrived in the United States of America, the place where we hope to build a new, better life.  

The poet Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) would later immortalize the immigrant passage experience in her sonnet The New Colossus whose lines appear on a bronze plaque in the pedestal.

The sonnet's final, now-immortal lines are:  

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-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

What's more, the statue as a symbol of the completion of a voyage to the new, better life now walks hand-in-hand with the statue as a symbol of freedom and democracy.

Later, with the ascension of the United States to world power, then superpower status, and the concomitant emergence of New York City as the financial and political capitol of the world, the statue would greet millions more new immigrants and visitors. Its presence in New York Harbor along with the Manhattan skyline, the most majestic skyline in the world, framed the essence of life in the modern, and now postmodern world.


Note: All interior spaces in the Statue of Liberty will be closed for approximately one year starting Saturday to enable upgrades/renovations of the base and pedestal -- including new stairways and elevators.

Visitors may still view the Statue of Liberty from land and sea, and those exterior viewing points will not be affected by the renovations. Underscoring, Liberty Island on which the statue stands, will remain open, but the interior statue will not be accessible.

Web cams will also be installed on the statue, enabling breath-taking vistas of the Manhattan skyline and New York Harbor.

For more information on the renovation, click here.