As the Civil War neared its end around 1865, a French historian named Edouard de Laboulaye suggested that France should build a statue to celebrate America’s hard-won independence from England. The project was given to a sculptor named Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. It was supposed to be finished in time for the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1876. The agreement was that the French would build the statue and the United States would build the pedestal it would be placed upon.
Bartholdi named his creation the “Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.” Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (the designer of Paris’s Eiffel Tower) joined the team to design and build the skeleton of the statue. It was made from iron pylon and steel, which was made so the copper skin around it could move more freely.
The statue was completed in 1885 and then taken apart and put into more than 200 crates to ship to New York. It took four months to put it back together and place it on the pedestal. President Grover Cleveland officially dedicated the Statue of Liberty on Oct. 28, 1886.
At the entrance to the statue’s pedestal is a plaque with the engraved sonnet by Emma Lazarus called “The New Colossus.” Lazarus wrote the poem in 1883 as part of a fundraising contest to help build the pedestal. Part of the sonnet includes the famous phrase:
“Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
In 1892, the U.S. opened a federal immigration station on Ellis Island. Between 1892 and 1954, about 12 million immigrants were processed there. Up until 1901, the statue’s torch was operated by the U.S. Lighthouse Board as a navigational aid for sailors. Then it became the U.S. War Department’s jurisdiction because Fort Wood was still an army post. In 1924, it became a national monument, and it was placed under the care of the National Parks Service in 1933. In 1956, Bedloe’s Island was renamed to Liberty Island, and, in 1965, Ellis Island became part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.