On this day in 1886, U.S. President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France commemorating the Declaration of Independence.
The copper statue was designed by French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel, the namesake of the iconic Eiffel Tower, which he would begin building just a year later. (Not many people can claim to have built world-renowned symbols for two countries!)
The statute was based off on Libertas (Latin for liberty), the Roman goddess of liberty who was created upon the establishment of the Roman Republic, and worshiped as a symbol thereof. Libertas is also the basis for the symbolic characters Columbia, who represents the U.S. and Marianne, who represents France — yet another commonality between the two republics.
Bartholdi was inspired by a French law professor and politician, Edouard Rene de Laboulaye, who in 1865 reportedly said that any monument raised to U.S. independence would properly be a joint project of France and America, given their decisive and pivotal alliance during the Revolutionary War.
Due to instability in France following a war with Prussia, work on the statue did not commence until the early 1870s. In 1875, Laboulaye proposed that France finance the statue while the U.S. provide the site and build the pedestal.
Bartholdi completed the head and the torch-bearing arm before the statue was fully designed, and these pieces were exhibited for publicity; the torch-bearing arm was displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, and in Madison Square Park in Manhattan from 1876 to 1882.
The statue was built in France, shipped overseas in crates, and assembled on the completed pedestal on what was then called Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island). The statue’s completion was also marked by New York’s first ticker-tape parade.