Shortly after Napoleon III was defeated in the Franco Prussian War, the French sculptor Frederic Bartholdi commenced construction of the sculpture Liberty Enlightening the World. The sculpture was to be a gift from the French people to the American people in celebration of the 100th anniversary of their country’s founding. It was soon understood that the colossal monument could not be built in the short two years before the centennial celebration, but Bartholdi and his supporters pressed forward anyway. After successfully raising the $400,000 it would take to build the statue Bartholdi was able to finish the work on the 151 foot tall figure in 1884.
Sadly, things did not go so well here in the United States. Congress had voted to accept the gift of the statue, but voted down legislation to provide funding to build the base pedestal that the statue was to stand on. There was little excitement for the statue in the United States. Who wanted a French statue!
One supporter, Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World newspaper, began a lone crusade to raise the money that congress would not provide. A few months later he had less than two hundred dollars in donations and two hundred thousand dollars to go. Several other cities began vying for the opportunity to have the statue in their cities. Boston, San Francisco, and Philadelphia all called for the opportunity if New Yorkers didn’t want it.
However, Bartholdi assembled the statue in the courtyard of his studio and waited while the funding for the pedestal slowly trickled in. More than a year later, Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper had grown from a circulation of a few thousand to over one hundred thousand. Pulitzer tried again to raise the funds needed for the pedestal. By the sheer numbers of his subscribers he began to have some success, but with donations of only a few pennies, a nickel, or a dime, for a mention in the paper, he was still far behind. Pulitzer persisted and continued to run stories about the statue. Then on April 1st 1884 he announced that the statue was being loaded on a ship and would be on its way to the United States within a month. Suddenly it became a reality in the minds of the American people and donations began to pour in. It was a race to complete the pedestal before the monument arrived. In July the ship arrived and as the first crates containing the statue were unloaded the excitement was at its highest. Soon after, on August 11th the total funds needed had been collected and final work on the pedestal progressed. Two years later the statue was assembled on its new home atop a 154 foot tall pedestal on Bedloe’s Island.
Pulitzer’s efforts had paid off; after four years, and a lot of ink at his own expense, he had gathered together the generosity of 120,000 contributors with an average donation of only 83 cents. Had Pulitzer or Bartholdi known that one day the statue would be an iconic symbol known around the world for good, both men would have been given a gift themselves in knowing that their efforts were more than worth the troubles.
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