Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The raising of Lady Liberty

The Statue of Liberty towers more than 305 ft (93 m) above the waters of New York Harbour, where, in the words of her creator, 'people get their first view of the New World'. It is the largest metal statue in the world, and took more than 15 years to build at a Paris workshop before being transported across the Atlantic to America.
The graceful folds of Lady Liberty's robes give no clue to the huge, pylon-like supporting structure beneath. You can climb the 171 steps that spiral through her body to an observation platform concealed in the rim of her crown, for a spectacular, statue's-eye view of the vast sweep of city and sea.
Each of Liberty's eyes is the length of a man's arm, her nose is 4.5 ft (1.4 m) long, and her index finger 8 ft (2.4 m). She stands an imposing 151ft (46m) tall, on a pedestal and base of about the same height again, and has a 35ft (10.5m) waist.
To create a statue on such a massive scale more than 100 years ago, took the artistic vision of an inspired young sculptor and the innovative engineering skills of the man who later built the Eiffel Tower.
The sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was dining at the home of a distinguished French historian in the summer of 1865 when the idea of a gift from the people of France to the Americans was born. A statue of 'Liberty Enlightening the World' (her official title) would mark the centenary of American Independence which the men and arms of France had helped to win, and would be a lasting symbol of friendship and share ideals between the two nations.
Inspired by the legendary Colossus of Rhodes - a gigantic bronze statue of the Greek sun god Helios, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, that stood at the harbour entrance at Rhodes in the 3rd century BC - Bartholdi designed and built a 36ft (11m) high plaster model. His finished statue would be more than four times taller and need to be strong enough to withstand the ravages of time and weather, yet light enough to ship to America.
The solution was to make Liberty hollow, with an outer shell on an inner framework - the same technique that was used for the Colossus of Rhodes. But whereas the Colossus had an outer shell of cast bronze, Bartholdi decided to use thin sheets of copper, a light and relatively flexible metal. Instead of casting the copper, he proposed to use a method of shaping called repousse, meaning 'pushed back', beating the metal into shape over sculpted wooden moulds. This copper outer skin would 'hang' on an inner, tower-like framework of iron.
Bartholdi cut his master model into sections, and made thousands of meticulous measurements before scaling up each section into a full-sized plaster replica. Wooden moulds were then carved to exactly match each of the enlarged sections. The finished 'skin' was made by hammering 300 thin copper sheets into the moulds from the inside.
Meanwhile, Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, an engineer renowned for his brilliant bridge-building, was working on the interior framework, which was to be the tallest iron support structure attempted up to that time. His design anticipated that of modern skyscrapers; like them, Liberty's outer shell is non-loadbearing, and 'floats' on its frame.
A framework of iron ribs radiates horizontally from a central backbone of four vertical girders that reach from Liberty's base to the nape of her neck. Attached to this is the armature, made of spring-like iron bars that curve and twist to follow the shape of the statue, like the framework of a dressmaker's dummy. To minimise the direct and potentially corrosive contact of copper and iron, the sections of copper skin are hung on this interior skeleton with copper brackets covered with an insulating material to keep the two metals apart.
The statue cost the people of France $400,000, but the flow of funds was sporadic, and work progressed fitfully. The mighty arm that bears the torch of liberty was finished in time for America's 100th birthday in 1876, but it was not until June 1884 - nearly 20 years after she had first been thought of - that Liberty was finally completed. She towered triumphantly above the streets of Paris, and was formally presented to the American minister to France on Independence Day , July 4.
Six months later, the statue was completely dismantled, and packed, numbered section by numbered section into more than 200 enormous crates, to be carried to America in the French naval transport ship Isere.


Ajayprabhu said...

Nice to know these unknown things which we see but seldom think over it.

Danielle said...

Thank you for yet again providing such detailed information in your posts. I am compiling a post for July 4th and your offerings will be highlighted.

Be well and enjoy the day.

Solomon Blue Waters said...

Thanks for this, my friend. I climbed it once, so it's interesting to know all this.