European Architecture Series
Statue of Liberty

History, Design, Construction of New York's Most Famous Landmark.

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Statue of Liberty (1886).
Copper Statue mounted on
a stone and concrete pedestal.
A masterpiece of neoclassical art.

Statue of Liberty (1870-86)


Summary At-a-Glance
Facts About the Statue of Liberty
Architecture and Construction
Who Was Auguste Bartholdi?
Articles about 19th Century Architecture

The statue's head on display at
the World Fair in Paris, 1878.



For a guide, see:
Architecture Glossary.

Summary At-a-Glance

The Statue of Liberty is a monumental sculpture located on Liberty Island, Upper New York Bay, south of Ellis Island, in New York City. The statue, which is 305 feet tall (93 m), was designed by French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) as a gift to the United States from the people of France. Depicting Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, it consists of a robed female figure who holds a torch and a legal tablet inscribed with the date of the American Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. At her feet lies a broken chain. The statue stands on a stone pedestal, designed by American architect Richard Morris Hunt (1827-95). Originally named "La Liberte eclairant le monde" (Liberty Enlightening the World) - rapidly shortened to "The Statue of Liberty" - it served as an icon of freedom to all immigrants arriving in America from abroad. (Note: between 1840 and 1914 some 32 million immigrants landed in the United States.) Today one might say it symbolizes the universal yearning for human rights. The statue was first designed by Bartholdi in 1870, at the suggestion of liberal jurist Edouard de Laboulaye (1811-83), with engineering advice from first Eugene Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79) and later Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923). It was built during the period 1875-84, shipped to New York in 1885 and dedicated on October 28, 1886. Despite disruptions caused by 9/11, renovations and hurricane damage, Liberty Island receives some 3.2 million visitors a year. Hailed as one of the great technical achievements in 19th century architecture and an inspirational example of public art, the Statue of Liberty helped to balance the groundbreaking advances in American architecture, made by designers from the Chicago School of Architecture (c.1880-1910) and others.

Facts About the Statue of Liberty

The statue - stylistically an example of neoclassical architecture - is a hollow construction of thinly pounded copper sheets (2.4 mm thick) laid over a steel framework. It weighs a total of 450,000 pounds (204 tonnes), including 27 tonnes of copper and 113 tonnes of steel. The statue rests upon a masonry pedestal. The figure of Libertas is 151 feet (46 m) tall, while the entire structure - from the base of the pedestal to the tip of the torch is 305 feet (93 m) in height. The statue's index finger is 8 feet long and its nose 4.5 feet. The pedestal is 89 feet (27 m) tall.


Bartholdi made his first design of the statue in 1870. The following year he and Laboulaye made their first visit to America to discuss the project with influential Americans. Following his return to France, Bartholdi continued to refine his design but - due to the uncertain political climate - construction didn't begin on the statue until the early 1870s. In 1875, with interest mounting in the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Laboulaye launched the project by naming the statue ("Liberty Enlightening the World") and announcing the formation of its fundraising body, the Franco-American Union. The French would finance the statue while the Americans would pay for the pedestal. In order to raise public support for the venture, Bartholdi fabricated the statue's right arm and head, at the Gaget Gauthier & Co. workshop in Paris. These were exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and the 1878 World Fair in Paris, although raising funds proved to be more difficult.

By 1884 the statue was finished, as were the foundations for the pedestal, but the American Committee for the Statue of Liberty then ran out of funds to build the pedestal. The situation was saved in early 1885 by Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World newspaper, who started a drive for public contributions that raised over $100,000 in six months - more than enough to complete the project. After prefabrication in Paris, the statue was duly shipped in 241 crates to the United States and assembled on the completed pedestal on what was then known as Bedloe's Island. The completion of the statue was celebrated by New York's first-ever ticker-tape parade and a dedication ceremony overseen by US President Grover Cleveland in October 1886. Maintained since 1933 by the US National Park Service, the statue underwent major repairs and renovation from 1984 to 1986, and from 2011 to 2012.

For more about other contemporaneous sculptural projects, see: 19th Century Sculptors. For more about progressive designers, please see: American Architects (c.1700-2000).


Bartholdi based his design of a female figure in neoclassical style on Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, similar to Thomas Crawford's "Statue of Freedom" (1863) which crowns the dome of the United States Capitol Building. The idea originated in the late 1860s in Bartholdi's proposal to build a lighthouse at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal, in the form of a robed female figure bearing a torch (symbolizing progress). A drawing and various models were made but nothing came of the idea.

Bartholdi originally wanted Libertas to wear a pileus - the cap given to emancipated slaves in ancient Rome - but settled on a crown instead, to avoid controversy. The seven rays which form a halo around her head symbolize the sun, the seven seas, and the seven continents.

In Libertas's left hand she carries a tabula ansata, a keystone-shaped tablet symbolizing the law. This bears the inscription "JULY IV MDCCLXXVI", thus linking the Declaration of Independence with the concept of liberty.

In general, Bartholdi gave the figure a simple but powerful silhouette, which was enhanced by its dramatic harbour location.

Architecture and Construction

The head and arm of the statue - the first sections to be completed - were made with engineering assistance from Viollet-le-Duc, who suggested using an internal stone pier to support the figure. Unfortunately he died in 1879 leaving no indication of how he intended to connect the copper skin of the figure to the masonry support. Luckily, in 1880, Bartholdi obtained the services of the innovative architect and metal engineer Gustave Eiffel - soon to become world-famous for creating the wrought-iron Eiffel Tower - and his structural engineer, Maurice Koechlin (1856-1946). These two decided to abandon the pier and instead rely on a metallic skeleton to form the interior framework. (See also: Victorian architecture.) The skeleton consisted of brass plaques, soldered and riveted together. The outer skin of moulded copper sheets was riveted to the interior skeleton, the two layers being separated by a thin layer of asbestos impregnated with shellac, to prevent corrosion. The combined structure was attached to a central steel pylon so as to allow movement necessitated by either wind or temperature. The main components of the statue were assembled in the Eiffel works in the Parisian suburb of Levallois-Perret, before being disassembled and transported to America for final reassembly in situ on Bedloe's Island.

The finished statue was formally presented to US Ambassador Morton at a formal ceremony in Paris on July 4, 1884. In 1885, following delays in the construction of the pedestal caused by shortage of funds, the statue was shipped to the United States. As it happened, the pedestal - a truncated pyramid design decorated with elements of Greek architecture as well as Aztec motifs, with poured concrete walls faced with granite blocks - was not completed until April 1886. Reassembly of the statue on top of the pedestal then took place, overseen by the Norwegian immigrant civil engineer Joachim Gotsche Giaever (1856-1925).

Who Was Auguste Bartholdi?

Born in Alsace, France, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi developed a passion for large-scale public monuments. In 1869, after the Egyptian government expressed interest in a lighthouse for the Suez Canal, he designed a colossal statue of a robed female, which he named "Progress Brings Light to Asia", although the project was eventually cancelled. When Edouard de Laboulaye suggested building a similar monument for the United States Bartholdi jumped at the idea. Furthermore, during his first visit to the US he discovered the ideal spot for the statue - Bedloe's Island. On his return to Paris in 1872, Bartholdi helped Laboulaye to establish the Franco-American Union which raised 400,000 francs to pay for the construction of the Statue. Indeed it was Bartholdi's efforts in helping to design, engineer, locate, promote and finance the statue that drove the whole project to a successful conclusion. In 1886, he directed the Statue's assembly in New York and attended its inauguration, at which he was presented with the key to the city.

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