The Story Behind the Statue of Liberty

A Trump immigration official suggested that Lady Liberty didn't want tired, poor, huddled masses — just working class Europeans. This history of America's most iconic statue proves otherwise. 🗽

Meet Lady Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is a 151-foot figure of the Roman goddess Libertas. It sits atop Liberty Island in New York Harbor. French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi wanted to create a monument to celebrate the bond between the United States and France. Funding issues delayed the project and led construction to last from the early 1870s through 1884. She was disassembled and shipped to the U.S. in pieces, before being unveiled and dedicated in New York on October 28, 1886.

Constructed of copper, the statue’s current color is green — a reaction of oxidation to the copper that actually protects the statue from further deterioration. At the base of the statue is the poem “The New Colossus” by American poet Emma Lazarus, which served to welcome new immigrants to America. She was the first thing seen in America by many of the 12 million immigrants entering the U.S. through nearby Ellis Island. It also revives an aspect of the statue’s long-forgotten history: Lady Liberty was originally designed to celebrate the end of slavery, not the arrival of immigrants.

Ellis Island, the inspection station through which millions of immigrants passed, didn’t open until six years after the statue was unveiled in 1886. The plaque with the famous Emma Lazarus poem — “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — wasn’t added until 1903. In 2019, a Trump administration official suggested that the poem only refers to European immigrants who could provide for themselves, in response to a potential policy change limiting legal immigration in America. Lazarus’s biographer said the poet wanted to encourage Americans to embrace the poor and destitute of all places.