Who paid for the Statue of Liberty

June 17, 1885 - Statue of Liberty comes to New York

An evening in Paris shortly after the murder of Abraham Lincoln in 1865: a group of French liberals meet for dinner and consider how to preserve the memory of this great man and the victory of the northern states in the civil war. A monumental monument to American independence could do the job. A gift from the French to the New World, so the idea, built together in the United States. That would also be a clear criticism of his own monarchy and Emperor Napoleon III, who supported slavery and the south during the civil war.

Frédéric Bartholdi is also in the house of the history professor Edouard de Laboulay that evening and is immediately enthusiastic about the idea. The young artist wants a statue based on the ancient model, where women represent freedom. However, Bartholdi does not envisage an unbridled goddess with a bared chest and wild hair - as it was picked up in the French Revolution - but a more prudish variant, covered in clothes and with a calm look. But it should be big, huge like the Colossus of Rhodes and the Hermannsdenkmal.

Enthusiasm in Paris

It takes five years for Bartholdi to develop a concrete idea from his first ideas. First, the goddess of freedom is created in his Paris workshop. Later it will be dismantled and brought across the Atlantic. Because Lady Liberty is by far the largest statue that has been erected to date. Her right arm alone measures 13 meters, her nose is more than a meter long and in total she weighs 204 tons, which is a little ladylike. Craftsmen, under the supervision of Barholdi, iron the outer skin from thin copper sheets and build the supporting structure from massive iron girders. The inner skeleton is designed by the French engineer Gustave Eiffel, a kind of mini-Eiffel tower.

All of this costs a lot of money and should be financed with donations. The French collect for the statue, the Americans for the foundation and base. It is relatively easy for Europeans to get excited about the monument through galas and concerts. Also because Lady Liberty is growing tall in Paris and will soon become a crowd puller. Dignitaries visited the lady enthroned above the city, journalists write numerous reports, and millions of drawings are in circulation. "Everyone knows the Statue of Liberty long before it comes to New York," says Edward Berenson, professor of history at New York University.

Difficult financing in New York

On the other side of the Atlantic, enthusiasm for the joint project is limited. New Yorkers don't see why they should pay for the statue with so many rich people on the fundraising committee. When Bartholdi is finished with his work, the Americans are still no further with the financing of the pedestal. It becomes too colorful for him and he sends his lady on a trip - to the chagrin of many Parisians who have meanwhile become very used to her. But the Statue of Liberty is dismantled, packed in 212 boxes and loaded onto a steamship.

She reached the New World on June 17, 1885. Only two days later did the New Yorkers prepare their new honorary citizen a befitting reception, with a parade of ships, festive flags, marching bands and tens of thousands of onlookers. Otherwise they are not prepared at all. The symbol of freedom remains locked in boxes for months because there is no funding for the foundation. Only when the publisher Joseph Pulitzer starts a campaign does the money for the base come together. One year after her arrival in New York, the Statue of Liberty is officially inaugurated - by the President of the USA himself.

Three million visitors a year

Since then, it has risen from its small island 90 meters high above New York Harbor and welcomes newcomers from the Old World, with the golden torch of freedom in the right and the inscription plaque with the date of the American Declaration of Independence in the left. For many immigrants, it is the first thing they see of their new home when they arrive in America. Today very few immigrants come by ship. But every year three million tourists and US citizens take the ferry to Liberty Island to visit the most American of all American icons - born in France.

Status: 06/17/2015

Program tips:

On WDR 2 you can always hear the due date around 9:40 a.m. Repetition: from Monday to Saturday at 6.40 p.m. The deadline is available as a podcast after it has been broadcast.

"ZeitZeichen" on WDR 5 (9:05 am) and WDR 3 (5:45 pm) also commemorates the arrival of the Statue of Liberty in New York on June 17, 2015. The "ZeitZeichen" is also available as a podcast.