“We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.”
—President Grover Cleveland, accepting the Statue of Liberty on behalf of the U.S. October 28th, 1886
To honour the alliance between America and France during the American Revolution, The Statue of Liberty made its way to America on June 17th, 1885. It sought to recognize America as the steadfast proponent of liberty while encouraging the French to support these same ideals. Lady Liberty is a beacon of hope for a democratic society that empowers her citizens.
This makes it harder to believe that the statue had yet to receive the necessary repairs during the initial years. Surprising as it may seem, it received only two major renovations, one in 1936 before the fiftieth anniversary and the other in 1986 for its centennial. The repairs that happened otherwise were merely cosmetic.
Subdelegation responsibility | The Statue of Liberty
In 1866, at the inauguration, Americans were euphoric at the brilliance of the performance it provided. But once the gift was exchanged, it was up to them to maintain it or risk its collapse. It was soon sub-delegated to different sections, each refusing to take full responsibility. Built on Bedloe, a military area, it meant the army would support her maintenance. But the National Service of Lights had to oversee the repairs of the torch. The U.S. committee responsible for the pedestal construction was also responsible for the Island tours. None of the three organisations was willing to bear the brunt of the responsibility.
Though enthusiastic initially, the Americans soon started to consider the statue an imposition, a commodity they would never build themselves. Only in the twentieth century did it have its first repair when it threatened to collapse. Public funds financed the interior repainting, base repair with granite, and construction of a new wharf. Additionally, the first elevator was installed then, which was extremely innovative.
The first major repairs
During World War 1, following the explosion in Jersey City, other repairs were made as 100 rivets had dropped and plates were moved. It cost the Americans 100,000 dollars, a hefty sum at the time.
The torch in Lady Liberty’s left hand had a predetermined purpose: to illuminate and direct the boats to the port of New York. Unfortunately, the light produced had low luminosity. In 1915, Joseph Pulitzer proposed that Congress put in $30,000, and he too would find the same amount from fundraisers of “World.” The money was enough to replace the torch with a powerful headlight which also illuminated the statue. Unfortunately, the environment around her could have been more conducive to her preservation, and in 1920 new lighting work needed to be financed, rendering the work largely ineffective.
In 1936, the first significant renovations began. The Roosevelt Government was willing to donate more public funding to an otherwise private project. Bedloe’s Island was a military land that had mainly tourist buildings. The conditions were abysmal. Between 1937 and 1941, a dike was constructed around the island, costing one and a half million dollars. Old buildings about to collapse were destroyed. A new dock was built, and rusted, unmaintained girders were replaced. The basement elevator was repaired, the steps were sealed, and the base of the roof was redone. But even then, the bulk of the work was left, and the iron structure had to be redone. Something no one was willing to touch.
Major structural repairs during 1982-1986
Restoration reached the halfway mark in 1985 with engineers convinced of solving significant problems. The corroded flame and torch are replaced, and the tip of Lady Liberty’s nose is patched. The weather-beaten exterior has been cleaned, but more importantly, defects in the statue’s structure that led to its deterioration were corrected. It was more about fixing internal problems and not just incorporating superficial changes.
Deterioration of the supporting structure is less attributable to its long vigil in fierce wind, rain, and pollution of New York Harbour and more to defects in the original design and construction, like misalignment of the head and the arm. The French sculptor Auguste Frederic Bartholdi who designed the statue, hired Viollet-le-Due, the first engineer who did the arm and head but died before the famed Gustave Eiffel took over. He had planned to rest the arm’s weight on joints that the central pylon would have borne entirely, but instead, the load was not transferred appropriately, creating high stresses. This is not the result of poor engineering but merely reflects constraints.
The most severe problem entailing extensive repair is the corrosion of the iron armature supporting its copper skin. Engineers replaced the iron with stainless steel bars and insulated them to the copper skin with Teflon tape. The discontinuities in the head, composed of a series of circling arches, are strengthened by additional supports.
There are about 8500 visitors daily, and there is a long wait for the elevator from the base to the top, with additional waiting time for the 154-step climb to the crown. In addition, the temperatures in the crown rise too sharply in summer and plummet to below freezing in winter with unacceptable carbon dioxide levels, making people dizzy and liable to fainting. To alleviate these problems, a new spiral staircase and two new elevators are being installed, as also fresh ventilation and heating systems. In addition, air would be blown to the crown area by a hole cut in the central column.
Conclusion | The Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is one of the world’s most famous and symbolic monuments, and understanding the monument’s impact enhances any visitor’s experience. From the very beginning, the statue was built to celebrate and inspire. She stands tall, symbolising hope for a better tomorrow, guarding the New York Harbour. Maintaining such a monument can be a daunting task. But the fact that it stands as a symbol for the United States of America and its values as a free country and a country of dreams make the efforts seem worth it.
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Restoring the statue (no date) National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Available at:https://www.nps.gov/stli/learn/historyculture/places_restoring.htm (Accessed: February 12, 2023).
Sims, C. (1985) Engineers fix original defects in the statue, The New York Times. The New York Times. Available at:https://www.nytimes.com/1985/12/17/science/engineers-fix-original-defects-in-the-statue.html (Accessed: February 12, 2023).
This day in history: The statue of liberty came to America (no date) National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration. Available at: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2015/06/17/day-history-statue-liberty-came-america#:~:text=The%20Statue%20of%20Liberty%2C%20a,to%20support%20the%20same%20ideals (Accessed: February 12, 2023).
Statue of liberty meaning: What she stands for (no date) Statue of Liberty Tour. Available at: https://www.statueoflibertytour.com/blog/statue-of-liberty-meaning-what-she-stands-for/ (Accessed: February 12, 2023).