How Long Did It Take to Build the Statue of Liberty: The Extraordinary Endeavor

By: Evan Scoboria, Last updated: May 28, 2023

The Statue of Liberty, an iconic symbol of freedom and democracy, stands tall in New York Harbor as a testament to the enduring spirit of the United States. Gifted by the people of France to the people of the United States, this colossal neoclassical sculpture has a rich history and an inspiring story. It took approximately 9 years to build the Statue of Liberty, from the design phase in 1875 to its completion in 1884. However, considering the time spent constructing the pedestal and the statue's assembly in the United States, the process took around 11 years. This article will delve into the fascinating history and significance of the Statue of Liberty and explore the various stages and challenges faced during its construction.

The Process of Building the Statue of Liberty

Creating the Statue of Liberty was no small feat, and the process involved meticulous planning, sculpting, construction, and the challenge of shipping the statue across the Atlantic Ocean. This section will explore the various stages of constructing the statue, from its initial design to its final assembly and renovation.

Sculpting the Statue of Liberty

The man responsible for bringing this symbol of freedom to life was French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi who began designing the Statue of Liberty in 1870. Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, inspired the statue's design. Bartholdi chose to depict her holding a torch in one hand and a tablet inscribed with the date of the United States Declaration of Independence in the other. Draped in a flowing robe, the statue embodies the essence of freedom and the strength of the human spirit.

Bartholdi began sculpting by creating small clay models to refine the statue's design. Once satisfied with the overall concept, he constructed a life-sized plaster model. This model was then disassembled into smaller sections to facilitate the creation of the statue's copper pieces.

Bartholdi collaborated with French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, who later designed the famous Eiffel Tower, to develop the statue's internal iron framework. Eiffel's innovative design allowed the copper skin to be securely attached to the framework while still providing the necessary flexibility for the statue to withstand strong winds and other environmental factors.

The entire sculpting process took years of painstaking work, with Bartholdi's dedication and passion for the project driving him to achieve the highest level of craftsmanship. The final result is a stunning piece of art that has become one of the most recognizable symbols of freedom and democracy in the world.

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The Repousse Method

The repoussé method, used to create the intricate details and the copper skin of the Statue of Liberty, is an ancient metalworking technique that dates back thousands of years. It involves using tools to shape thin metal sheets, such as copper, by hammering or pressing them into relief from the reverse side. This method creates intricate, three-dimensional designs that are visually stunning and structurally strong.

One of the main advantages of using the repoussé method is the ability to create highly detailed and complex patterns on metal surfaces without casting or welding. This technique allows for precision and intricacy while maintaining the overall integrity and strength of the metal. Additionally, the repoussé method is cost-effective, requiring relatively small amounts of material to create large, elaborate structures.

Bartholdi first sculpted a life-sized plaster model to create the Statue of Liberty, which was then divided into smaller sections. Each section guided the repoussé process, as artisans hammered thin copper sheets around these molds to achieve the desired shape. Once the individual copper pieces were completed, they were carefully assembled and fastened to the statue's internal iron framework designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel.

Despite its many advantages, the repoussé method does have its challenges. The process is labor-intensive and requires high skill and craftsmanship from the artisans. Working with thin metal sheets can also be delicate and time-consuming, as even minor imperfections or damage can affect the final result.

The Pedestal and Base of the Statue

The pedestal and base of the Statue of Liberty play a crucial role in the monument's overall appearance, stability, and symbolism. They provide a solid foundation for the statue, add to its imposing presence, and contribute to its powerful message. The design and construction of the pedestal and base were a massive undertaking, and their story is just as fascinating as that of the statue itself.

American architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the pedestal as a neoclassical structure made of granite and concrete. The ancient Egyptian pyramids inspired Hunt's design, featuring a square base with four massive buttresses supporting a central shaft that rises more than 89 feet (27 meters) above ground level. The pedestal stands on a star-shaped base, which adds to its visual appeal and provides additional support and stability.

Building the pedestal was a significant challenge in its own right. Funding for the pedestal was initially scarce, and construction was delayed for several years. American newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer played a crucial role in raising the necessary funds by using his newspaper, The New York World, to launch a public campaign to solicit donations. Thousands of ordinary Americans contributed small amounts, and eventually, the required funds were raised, allowing the construction to move forward.

Construction of the pedestal commenced in 1883 on Bedloe's Island (now Liberty Island) and took about four years to complete. The process involved laying a solid foundation, assembling the granite blocks that formed the base and buttresses, and pouring concrete to create the central shaft. During construction, the workers faced various challenges, including adverse weather conditions and the difficulties of transporting and maneuvering the massive granite blocks.

Once the pedestal was completed in 1886, the various sections of the Statue of Liberty, which had been shipped from France, were carefully hoisted into place and assembled on top. The pedestal's height and design elevate it above the surrounding landscape, making it visible from miles away.

Shipping and Installation of the Statue

The shipping and installation of the Statue of Liberty were monumental tasks that required careful planning, engineering expertise, and a considerable amount of ingenuity. The process of transporting the colossal statue from France to the United States and then assembling it on Liberty Island is a fascinating story that speaks to the dedication and determination of the people involved.

After completing the statue's construction in France, it was necessary to dismantle it into more than 300 pieces for transportation across the Atlantic Ocean. The statue was packed into over 200 wooden crates, each carefully labeled and numbered to ensure they could be efficiently reassembled upon arrival in the United States. The disassembled statue and its supporting framework were loaded onto the French naval ship "Isère" in June 1885.

The journey across the ocean had its challenges. The ship faced rough seas and strong winds, which caused delays and threatened to damage the precious cargo. However, the Isère managed to navigate these obstacles and, with much fanfare and excitement, arrived in New York Harbor on June 17, 1885.

Upon arrival, the crates containing the statue's components were offloaded and transported to Liberty Island (then called Bedloe's Island), where they were stored until the pedestal's construction was completed. Once the pedestal was ready, the challenging process of assembling the statue began. This task was overseen by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the same engineer responsible for designing the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Eiffel also designed the statue's ingenious internal iron framework, which allowed the copper skin to be attached securely and provided structural support.

Reassembling the Statue of Liberty was a painstaking process that took several months to complete. Each piece was carefully hoisted into position using a combination of derricks, pulleys, and winches. The statue's internal framework was assembled first, followed by the copper skin, riveted to the framework in a precise sequence. This method maintained the statue's structural integrity and iconic appearance.

Finally, on October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was officially unveiled and dedicated in a grand ceremony attended by thousands of people, including President Grover Cleveland. The shipping and installation of the statue were significant accomplishments, and they demonstrated the power of international cooperation, as well as the determination and ingenuity of the people who worked tirelessly to bring this symbol of freedom and hope to life.

Closing Thoughts

The construction of the Statue of Liberty was a monumental undertaking, spanning over a decade from its initial design to its final assembly. The dedication and perseverance of those involved in its creation resulted in a timeless symbol of freedom and democracy that inspires millions today. As we reflect on the journey of the Statue of Liberty and its impact on American culture and history, we are reminded of the enduring power of hope and the resilience of the human spirit.