Today in History: Statue of Liberty dedicated by President Cleveland in 1886

October 28th, 2013

On October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was officially dedicated in New York City in a large celebration featuring President Grover Cleveland and a massive city parade. The statue, designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, was meant as a shared symbol of liberty between the United States and France, and now stands as one of the most iconic American landmarks.

The idea for a Statue of Liberty first arose from comments made by French politician Édouard René de Laboulaye in 1865: “If a monument should rise in the United States, as a memorial to their independence, I should think it only natural if it were built by united effort—a common work of both our nations.” Bartholdi heard the remarks and was inspired, but the monument was delayed by the Franco-Prussian War.

In June 1871, Bartholdi traveled to America to discuss the idea. He selected Bedloe’s Island, a plot of land owned by the United States government as the site for the monument. Over the next several years, Bartholdi refined his design for the Statue of Liberty, placing a tablet in Lady Liberty’s left hand to embody the rule of law and a torch in her right hand, suggesting that liberty enlightens the world.

The United States agreed to construct the pedestal of the base, but fundraising stalled over political concerns and the need to pay for the construction of the Washington Monument. Joseph Pulitzer, the publisher of the World devised an ingenious fundraising effort to raise $100,000 from the public. Pulitzer announced that he would print the name of anyone who contributed any sum of money toward the fund. The effort was a tremendous success, with citizens both young and old contributing amounts as little as five cents. After five months, the statue fund raised $102,000, and the pedestal was completed in April 1886 as the pieces of the statue itself were being reassembled in New York.

The dedication ceremony took place on October 28, and featured a daylong celebration of the statue beginning with a street parade featuring hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and continuing to a nautical parade en route to Bedloe’s Island. Speakers at the dedication ceremony included President Grover Cleveland, French representative Ferdinand de Lesseps, and American orator and politician Chauncey Depew. In his remarks, President Cleveland said that the torch’s “stream of light shall pierce the darkness of ignorance and man’s oppression until Liberty enlightens the world.”

For more on the Statue of Liberty, read about Edward Moran’s 1886 painting, “Unveiling the Statue of Liberty,” commemorating the day’s events. See, too, Emma Lazarus’ 1883 poem, “The New Colossus.”

Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

Tags: , ,