How They Built the Statue of Liberty

Written by LetsBuild

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There it is, sat on Liberty Island off Manhattan, New York, New York, towering 93 metres above the ground and the icon for The United States of America since 1886 when it was dedicated!


Well, it actually comes in three parts, each of which are essential components, but which are completely different to each other! That it is there at all comes down to one man! The idea had been there and starts made, but they got nowhere.

What happened was that the French, who donated it to America, got Gustave Eiffel – yes, the Eiffel Tower man! – involved and he came up with the structural design. Where we’ll start is what the statue is stood on; the pedestal.

Under the original agreement this was paid for and built by America. They raised the cash with donations from the public. This was built using poured concrete walls up to 6 metres thick and faced with granite blocks. At the time it was the largest poured concrete structure in the World. It is built on foundations 4.6 metres deep. One of the quirks of the whole Statue is that there wasn’t thought to be space to erect scaffolding for the job. The way it was done was by the workers dangling from ropes!

They were to be congratulated because there wasn’t a single fatal accident on the whole job!


The next bit of the build is where Monsieur Eiffel comes in. He came up with the idea of what is probably the World’s first curtain wall construction for it. A steel framework went up which was attached to and supported by a central steel tower. The components of the pylon tower were built in the Eiffel factory in the nearby Parisian suburb of Levallois-Perret. This gave flexibility against winds and earthquakes. This was all bolted to steel I-beams cast into the concrete pedestal. All the components for this were delivered by ship to New York and rapidly erected – dangling from ropes!

A couple of spiral staircases were incorporated into the steel support structure so that future visitors could walk up to the viewing platform.

Now we come to the real coin-trick here! In June 1885 what we see today, the Statue of Liberty, was delivered by ship. Was it “built”? Not really!

All it is are a load of copper castings attached to the steel framework!

The design of these was the result of design work by the French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. All these copper panels were cast in the works of Gaget, Gauthier & Co and the panels are only 2.4 mm. thick! Metal “saddles” were attached internally to each section to allow bolting to the steel support structure.

Giving credit where it is due, this was a phenomenal piece of work by the French!

At this point Eiffel intervened again. To prevent galvanic corrosion from the contact of the copper panels with the steel support structure Eiffel insulated the skin with asbestos impregnated with shellac.

These copper panels were rapidly attached to the steel framework and in 1886 it was dedicated and opened to the public. What was donated to the Americans by the French public has now become the globally recognised iconic emblem for the whole of the United States of America!

Read also about making your construction project really outstadning.