President Grover Cleveland, a former New York governor, dedicated the Statue of Liberty on this date in 1886. The 151-foot statue, designated as a national monument in 1924 and restored for its centennial in 1986, serves today as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. A gift from the people of France, it sits on what is now known as Liberty Island in New York Harbor.
Congress authorized the placement of the statue in 1877. William Tecumseh Sherman, a Civil War general, chose the site in keeping with the wishes of the sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, who consulted Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower, to deal with the complex structural issues.
An agreement stipulated that Americans were to fund the 154-foot granite pedestal and foundation while the French would take responsibility for the statue itself. However, financial problems on both sides of the Atlantic delayed the project. In France, a lottery helped raise funds, while in the United States, the money came from newspaper promotions, theatrical benefits, art shows, auctions and prize fights.
The statue, made of copper sheeting hung on an iron framework, depicts a robed woman holding a torch. The flame of the torch is coated in gold leaf. Its classical appearance is derived from Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom from slavery, oppression and tyranny. Seven spikes on the crown evoke the Seven Seas and the seven continents. Lady Liberty’s torch signifies enlightenment. She holds a tablet that represents knowledge. It notes the date of the Declaration of Independence: July 4, 1776.
Public access to the balcony surrounding the torch has been barred for safety reasons since 1916. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the statue was closed to the public. The National Park Service maintained that fire regulations and potential evacuation problems, rather than the threat of a terrorist attack, made it necessary to keep it shut. The 10-story pedestal and museum, however, remained open to visitors; the statute itself was reopened to visitors in October 2013.
On Oct. 7, 2016, construction started on a new Statue of Liberty museum. The 26,000-square-foot facility on Liberty Island is scheduled to open in 2019. When ground was broken, the project had garnered more than $40 million of the required $70 million construction cost.