1875 - 1886

The construction of the Statue of Liberty

Musée des arts et métiers

“The dream of my life is fulfilled”
Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi/1886

Piece of art and technical achievement at the same time, “Liberty Enlightening the World”, also known as the Statue of Liberty, was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904). Soon to be a universal symbol of liberty, enlightening New York bay for more than a century, the statue is also the result of an exceptional human, artistic and technical adventure.

Taken on the behalf of Bartholdi throughout the construction, the images testify to this human adventure. They were used to raise funds needed for the construction and to promote the project, especially in the newspapers.

During a trip to New York in 1871, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi discovers Bedloe’s Island: he is fascinated by the place right away, appearing as a perfect location for him to fulfill Edouard de Laboulaye’s dream of erecting a commemorative monument for the American Declaration of Independence’s anniversary (1776-1886).

The creation of the primitive model of the Statue of Liberty, in Gaget, Gauthier et Cie workshops, 1877-1880.

Bartholdi’s outsized project threw up some technical difficulties, and the timing was short. The monumental size of the Statue (46 meters) makes him opt for the copper repoussé method to make the structure lighter, as opposed to bronze.

In 1875, the Franco-American Committee launches a subscription to raise 600 000 francs needed for the Statue’s construction. Even without the full sum collected, construction begins in the Gaget, Gauthier and Cie workshops, in Paris. The architect Viollet-le-duc is approached to conceive the internal structure: he thinks first of bags of sand.

The final mold of the head and the primitive model of the Statue of Liberty, 1877-1878.

A study is created on a scale of 1:16, measuring 2.11 meters. A certain number of divisions are traced on the plaster model, then created in their final size, assembled in a framed structure and coated in plaster.

A wooden model based on the plaster version allows workers to press the copper sheets on the structure: 300 pieces of copper sheets, each 1 to 3 millimetres thick, create the outer skin of the Statue.

The hand and the torch: they are part of the first element built for the Statue of Liberty.
The bust of the Statue of Liberty on Champ-de-Mars in Paris, during the Universal Exhibition of 1878.

“One can only hear hammers blowing, files grating, chains jingling; a big hustle and bustle everywhere, with noise and commotion. You would think you're in a huge factory.” - Le Moniteur universel, March 29th 1885

Panoramic view of Gaget, Gauthier et Compagnie workshops, and of the metal structure of the Statue of Liberty, circa 1883.

Gustav Eiffel replaces Viollet-le-Duc when he dies in 1879: in a major technical innovation, Eiffel drops the initial proposition of his predecessor and chooses a metal structure, light and flexible, to support the outer skin made in copper sheets.

A temporary assembly is made in the workshops: for the assembly of the segments, 300 pieces with a total weight of 80 tonnes are set on the iron framework and held together with screws. The final assembly in America is more elaborate in the form of copper rivets, a major invention at the time giving a general impression of being a single piece.

The opening of the assembly of Eiffel’s metal structure takes place in Gaget, Gauthier et Cie workshops on October 24th, 1881. The assembly lasts 2 years and eight months.

The Statue of Liberty surrounded by buildings near Plaine Monceau in Paris.

On July 4th, 1884, Auguste Bartholdi and Ferdinand de Lesseps (who succeeded Laboulaye as President of the Franco-American Commitee) sign the deed of the donation of “Liberty enlightening the world” to the people of the United States. The latter gives an impassioned speech in which the Statue is named quite simply as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” !

On the day the Statue is donated to the American people, Auguste Bartholdi is posing, admiring his masterpiece.

History's first monument to be built from a “kit”, the Statue is taken apart at the beginning of the year 1885 and its fragments distributed in more than 200 wooden crates. It leaves Rouen, France, on board of the ship L’Isère on May 21st, 1885 and arrives in New York bay on June 17th.

But the construction of the pedestal on Bedloe’s Island, paid by the Americans, is not finished. Its design is entrusted in 1881 to Richard Morris Hunt, a well-known architect, and the construction site is supervised by chief engineer Charles Pomeroy Stone. Following a press campaign by the owner of the democratic newspaper The World, Joseph Pulitzer, the missing funds are collected. The pedestal is finally achieved during Spring 1886 and the assembly can begin.

Workers in front of the pedestal, May 1884.
Started in 1883, the building of the Statue of Liberty's pedestal doesn't end until Spring 1886.

The inauguration takes place on October 28th, 1886. A speech is given on the island on this occasion and a naval parade takes by storm New York Bay. Amongst the famous people attending: President Grover Cleveland, Admiral Benjamin Jaurès, General Pélissier, Deputies Spuller and Desmons, Ferdinand de Lesseps, A. Lefaivre, Chauncey M. Depew, Reverend Richard S. Storrs.

In 1907, the artist's widow Jeanne Emilie Bartholdi gave to the Musée des arts et métiers a set of photographs and objects (models, templates) dedicated to the Statue of Liberty. The documents presented here are part of this collection, registered with the number 13768 in the museum's inventory.

Credits: Story

Contributions — Musée des arts et métiers, Département des collections.

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