The Hard Sell of an American Icon: The Statue of Liberty

The Hard Sell of an American Icon: The Statue of Liberty

July 03, 2012 at 4:00 am

Author: Edward Berenson
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication Date: May 2012

The Statue of Liberty has long become the country’s most recognizable icon, yet in the late 19th century, Americans could not foresee all the statue would come to represent — America’s freedom, its form of democracy and even immigrant history.

This gift from the people of France had to be promoted by the statue’s sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, who traveled to New York in 1871. Before he could secure New York’s harbor as the setting for his statue, the artist struggled to gain American support for the project. As he traveled the country, Bartholdi proposed the plan to every person he met, many of whom were socially influential, but only few showed interest.

Most wealthy New Yorkers seemed unwilling to reach deep into their pockets. People in D.C. and Philadelphia that were supportive in spirit were reluctant to contribute, as the statue would be erected in New York, after all.

In a brilliant, 19th-century style “social media” campaign — a newspaper publisher in New York whipped up the final necessary $102,000 from 121,000 ordinary Americans in 1885. The statue’s unveiling on Oct. 28, 1886 drew more than a million people into New York’s streets.

See who was for, and against, Lady Liberty by clicking the graphic.

MetroFocus/Karen Brazell