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1884

France gives the Statue of Liberty to the United States

In a ceremony held in Paris on this day in 1884, the completed Statue of Liberty is formally presented to the U.S. ambassador as a commemoration of the friendship between France and the United States.

The idea for the statue was born in 1865, when the French historian and abolitionist Édouard de Laboulaye proposed a monument to commemorate the upcoming centennial of U.S. independence (1876), the perseverance of American democracy and the liberation of the nation’s slaves. By 1870, sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi had come up with sketches of a giant figure of a robed woman holding a torch—possibly based on a statue he had previously proposed for the opening of the Suez Canal.

Bartholdi traveled to the United States in the early 1870s to drum up enthusiasm and raise funds for a proposed Franco-American monument to be located on Bedloe’s Island, in New York’s harbor. Upon his return to France, he and Laboulaye created the Franco-American Union, which raised some 600,000 francs from the French people.

Work on the statue, formally called “Liberty Enlightening the World,” began in France in 1875. A year later, the completed torch and left forearm went on display in Philadelphia and New York to help with U.S. fundraising for the building of the statue’s giant pedestal.

Constructed of hammered copper sheets formed over a steel framework perfected by engineer Gustave Eiffel (who joined the project in 1879), the completed Statue of Liberty stood just over 151 feet high and weighed 225 tons when it was completed in 1884. After the July 4 presentation to Ambassador Levi Morton in Paris that year, the statue was disassembled and shipped to New York City, where it would be painstakingly reconstructed.

Meanwhile, publisher Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World had stepped in to help raise funds for the pedestal’s construction, raising more than $100,000 in donations by mid-1885. In October 1886, the pedestal on Bedloe’s Island was completed, and the Statue of Liberty was formally dedicated in a ceremony presided over by President Grover Cleveland.

Six years later, the inspection station on neighboring Ellis Island opened, welcoming more than 12 million immigrants to the United States between 1892 and 1954. Above them, the Statue of Liberty brandished her torch, embodying the most famous words from Emma Lazarus’ 1883 poem “The New Colossus,” written to raise funds for the pedestal and later inscribed on a plaque at its base: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

READ MORE: Statue of Liberty: The Making of an Icon

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