On this day in 1886, President Grover Cleveland dedicates the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
The statue’s full name was Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World. It had been a gift from French citizens to their American friends in recognition of the two countries’ commitment to liberty and democracy and their alliance during the American Revolutionary War, which had begun 110 years earlier. The 151-foot copper statue was built in France and shipped to New York in 350 separate parts. It arrived in the city on June 17, 1886, and over the next several months was reassembled while electricians worked to wire the torch to light up at night.
As President Cleveland accepted the statue on behalf of American citizens, he declared “we will not forget that liberty here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.” The statue quickly became a symbol of America’s humanitarianism and willingness to take in the world’s “tired, poor and huddled masses”—in the words of the poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the monument’s pedestal—who yearned for freedom and a better life.
“Lady Liberty” was originally intended to work as a functional lighthouse and, from 1886 to 1901, the statue was operated by the United States Lighthouse Board. In 1901, the War Department took over its operation and maintenance. The statue and the island on which it stands, now known as Liberty Island, were together proclaimed a national monument by President Calvin Coolidge on October 15, 1924, and, in 1933, the National Park Service assumed oversight of the monument. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan established a commission tasked with restoring the deteriorating Lady Liberty in time for a centennial celebration in 1986. A joint French-American preservation and rehabilitation group cleaned the statue and replaced the glass and metal torch with gold leaf. The original torch is on display in the statue’s lobby.
Today, the Statue of Liberty is a major tourist attraction, hosting as many as 5 million people every year. Although access to the statue’s crown was restricted following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, tourists can still visit Liberty Island, and the statue’s pedestal observation deck and museum.