A Dedication to Liberty: A Wolfsonian—FIU Reflection on the Anniversary of the Dedication of the Statue of Liberty
In a dedication ceremony presided over by U.S. President Grover Cleveland and attended by numerous French dignitaries, the last rivet was fitted onto the monumental Statue of Liberty anchored on its pedestal in New York harbor on this day in 1886. This gift of friendship from the French people was originally called “Liberty Enlightening the World” and conceived of as a tribute to the Franco-American alliance forged during the American War of Independence.
The 151-foot statue of a woman holding high the torch of liberty was designed by French sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), and its copper wrought and assembled in Paris.
The steel structure needed to support the giant copper shell was jointly designed by the architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) and finished after his death by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923)—latter to win international fame as the designer of Paris’ iconic Eiffel Tower.
The statue was completed in France in May, 1884, and three months later the cornerstone of the pedestal was laid on Bedloe’s Island in New York harbor. Afterwards, the statue was dismantled and shipped in pieces to the United States in more than two hundred individual crates.
The images from this post derive from the book, The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, described and inscribed by the sculptor Bartholdi, and published in New York in 1885 “for the Benefit of the Pedestal Fund.”
When Ellis Island was opened as the central immigration processing station in 1892, the nearby Statue of Liberty became a symbol of hope for those seeking a new life in the United States.
Since that time, Lady Liberty’s image has been invoked to instill a sense of patriotism, most especially in times when American liberty seemed threatened by winds of war. Once the United States became directly involved in the Great War in 1917, sheet music covers and even children’s books reproduced this great symbol of liberty and Franco-American friendship to sell citizens on the necessity of intervening in the “European conflict” on the side of our old ally.
Gift of Francis Xavier Luca and Clara Helena Palacio Luca
Gift of Pamela K. Harer
A propaganda poster designed by Armando Vassallo also used Lady Liberty, (combined with the flags of the Entente allies), to welcome America into the fight against autocracy.
Another powerful liberty bond poster used a decapitated Lady Liberty and New York City burning in the background to graphically depict the worst case scenario of what might befall America and liberty if she were to lose the war.
Gift of Henry Hacker
A label printed to celebrate the Armistice that ended the Great War also depicted the Statue of Liberty.
Victory Gold Levi Collection, The Wolfsonian—FIU
Between 1929 and 1939, during the difficult decade of worldwide depression and the rise of fascism in Europe, Lady Liberty was used in propaganda designed by the critics of American capitalism. In a block book printed (but not published) by the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) during the infamous Scottsboro race trial, Lady Liberty has been displaced by a Ku Klux Klansman wielding a machine gun and holding a hang man’s noose, and sporting a dollar sign and swastika.
One of the CPUSA’s most prolific artists, Hugo Gellert (1892-1985) portrayed a distressed Lady Liberty with a burned-out torch on the lining papers of his illustrated satire, Comrade Gulliver: An Illustrated Account of Travel into that Strange Country the United States of America.
On the opposite side of the political spectrum, Italian fascists also recognized the importance of the image of the Statue of Liberty, and deployed it in propaganda materials commemorating a “good-will” transatlantic flight to the Chicago world’s fair—a feat that also demonstrated the power and reach of Mussolini’s fascist state.
In 1938, Vaughn Shoemaker, the American cartoonist responsible for creating and popularizing “John Q. Public,” returned from a trip to troubled Europe and bestowed a grateful kiss on Lady Liberty.
But it was the threat and then outbreak of the Second World War that brought the image of the Statue of Liberty back into the American consciousness. In 1941, artist Harry Gottlieb depicted Lady Liberty as a literal beacon of freedom for those fleeing Fascist and Nazi oppression in Europe.
Natacha Carlu’s poster printed by the Free French Press and Information Service in 1942 coupled Lady Liberty with Marianne and the slogan: “Liberty…Sweet Liberty…Guide and Support Our Vengeful Arms.”
Other graphic artists preparing Americans for wartime service once the United States entered the conflict also deployed Lady Liberty in a barrage of propaganda posters, pamphlets, postcards, envelopes and stationery.
Gift of Leonard A. Lauder
Victory Gold Levi Collection, The Wolfsonian—FIU