STANDING on Bedloe's Island, in New York Harbour, is the great statue of Liberty. The creation and building of this statue called for no mean engineering skill. This colossal female figure, whose torch towers over 300 feet into the air, is an imposing object as seen from steamships coming up the harbour, from bridge and river, and from the encircling cities and hills and plains of New York and New Jersey. The statue is the work of the French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, who obtained his idea of creating such a figure and presenting it to the American nation from his friend M. Laboulaye.
The object of artist and friend was to produce something that would be a fitting gift and commemorative of the long-established goodwill between the two nations. An influential committee was formed and in 1874 the French public was asked to subscribe to a fund to meet the cost of building the statue. Various festivities were held throughout the country with a view to collecting the necessary money, and the work was begun the same year.
Two years later a portion of the monument, the hand bearing the torch, was completed in Paris, and sent to America, where it was exhibited in Philadelphia, and later in New York. An Act of Congress accepting the statue as a gift from the French, people, and setting apart Bedloe's Island as a suitable place for its reception, was passed in 1877. The following year another portion of the figure, the head, was finished and exhibited at the Paris Exhibition. The statue was completed in 1883, and in the same year was begun the building of the great pedestal on which it stands. Some idea of the colossal size of the figure and pedestal may be gained from the table of the principal dimensions below.
The statue is one of the biggest in the world. The celebrated Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was only about 105 feet high, and the recent Mussolini Obelisk in Rome, with, its 60-feet figure, has a total height of 121 feet. The designing and modelling of the figure of Liberty entailed a vast amount of labour. It occupied sixty men for ten years. It is thought that Bartholdi modelled the figure from his mother.
First of all he prepared a study model, seven feet high. This was enlarged to four times its original size. This, in turn, Was carefully studied and remodelled, and then divided into a great number of sections, over three hundred in all, each of which was marked with a distinguishing figure or number. The exact form of the statue having been settled, the sculptor proceeded to make models or moulds upon which the copper casing, or envelope, could be shaped. This outer covering of copper was only about 3/32 in. thick; elaborate precautions were taken to keep the outlines and corners rigid and in shape.
All the sections were again enlarged four times. They were made with the greatest geometrical precision by means of a number of wires and leads attached to the pieces, from which dimensions were taken off with compasses. Some of the sections required as many as 9,000 separate measurements. Plaster moulds of these sections were then prepared and, as these were completed, carpenters built wooden models of them. Upon these the copper was moulded by blows from mallets, assisted by levers, the fine finishing touch being given with small hammers or rammers.
This copper shell, because of its thinness, lacked rigidity and it was necessary to increase the stiffness of every piece, particularly those of large size, with iron bars secured to the interior surface. These bars were so bent as to conform closely to the curves in the copper, to which they were fastened by copper bands. Their ends were riveted to the shell and were so disposed and united to one another as to form a most intricate network of bracing, covering and strengthening the entire statue.
The statue was made in no fewer than 350 separate parts. It was essential that these should be assembled together in the workshop to see that they fitted exactly. A huge iron frame, designed by Gustave Eiffel, the builder of the Eiffel Tower, was made, and to this the numerous sections were fitted. It consisted of four massive angle-iron corner posts, united by horizontal angle pieces dividing it into panels, which were strengthened by steel struts and braces, arranged diagonally and having side extensions to approach more closely to the contour of the figure. The smaller frames supporting the head and the extended arm of the figure were of lighter construction than, but similar to those of the main frame. The shell, or monument, was bolted to this iron framework. By assembling the pieces together the engineers were able to pierce the necessary holes for the rivets where the edges overlapped.
An 89-feet Pedestal
When the statue was taken down in France the pieces were packed in frames of wood, to prevent damage by bending, and brought over to New York in a French war vessel. While the sculptor and his assistant had been busy in Paris the Americans had begun operations at Bedloe's Island by preparing a suitable base and building a handsome pedestal to carry the monument. The foundation is a solid piece of concrete, one of the largest monoliths in the world, 65 feet high, 91 feet square at the base and 66 ft. 7 in. square at the top. It rests upon a soil composed of stiff clay, gravel and boulders. Upon this foundation was built the pedestal, a particularly handsome structure, towering 89 feet in height.
The building of the monument was a tedious and slow process. It meant work at great heights and in so confined a space as to prevent the employment of a large number of men. It was most essential that the riveting should be done carefully. Otherwise there would have been unseemly lines. The pieces were temporarily stored in a great shed at the foot of the pedestal and lifted as required by a derrick on to a huge platform built round the top of the pedestal. Here the protecting cover of wood was removed and the piece was raised by rope and tackle into its proper position and held in place until enough rivets or small temporary bolts had been inserted to secure it. All the rivets were then driven and the section bolted to the frame, or rather to the supporting bars. The outer heads of the rivets were of copper and were countersunk.
In this manner the shell was carried upward piece by piece, until the monument stood complete. No part of the ironwork is in direct contact with the copper, a thorough insulation being obtained by covering the adjoining surfaces with shellac and interposing a strip of asbestos. This was necessary to prevent the corrosion which would otherwise be caused by the damp salt air.
This gigantic statue is justly admired for its majestic proportions and for the benevolent calm of the countenance. The pedestal, too, is an artistic creation. At its summit is a balcony, 3 ft. 7 in. wide, running round its four sides. It has also a loggia 26 ft. 7 in. high. Round the base is a terrace 15 ft. 6 in. wide, to which a staircase leads. Shields bearing the coats of arms of the several States of the American Republic are arranged round the base.
Unique Harbour Light
The statue alone weighs 100 tons, its composition being three-fifths iron and two-fifths copper. Its cost is estimated at £50,000. To this sum must be added £70,000 for the base and pedestal, making £120,000 in all. The pedestal and monument can be ascended, and the trip to the island for a view of New York from the pedestal balcony or from the torch is regarded as one of the things that should be done by every visitor to New York. The torch, at the extreme height of the extended arm, is reached by a staircase in the monument. Fifteen people can easily find accommodation round the torch balcony. Just above this balcony is an electric light, which illuminates the torch every night.
October 28, 1886, was the date fixed for the ceremonial inauguration of the statue. A grand military and civil procession took place on shore. Then the President of the Republic and the most distinguished personages boarded thirty-seven steamers for the island. The face, which had been shrouded by tricolour flags, was unveiled amid the din of cannon, steam whistles and hooters.
From 1886 to 1902 the statue was maintained by the Lighthouse Board of the United States Government as one of the important lights for illuminating New York Harbour. Powerful electric arc lights were placed in the torch and turned on at dusk. To-day the statue still shows a light at night, more, however, for effect than as a guide to shipping. A less powerful light was installed when other arrangements were made for lighting the waterway. Seen by day or by night the great figure is most striking.
DIMENSIONS OF THE STATUE
Total height of statue.....151 ft. 1 in.
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