The final model of the statue moved the broken chains beneath Lady Liberty’s feet, with a tablet that represented the rule of law placed in her hands instead.
The date of American Independence, July 4, 1776, is written on the tablet in Roman numerals. The sculptor, Mr. Bartholdi, based the statue’s design on the Roman goddess Libertas, who is typically depicted wearing a Phrygian cap, traditionally worn by freed Roman slaves.
On a trip to the United States, Mr. Bartholdi chose what was then Bedloe’s Island — it was renamed Liberty Island in 1956 — because of its visibility to ships entering New York Harbor. The statue’s pieces were constructed in France in the 1870s, and assembled and displayed in Paris from 1881 to 1884.
The smaller statue will have a much simpler journey to the United States than its larger predecessor, which stands 151-feet tall on top of a 154-foot-high pedestal. The 19th-century statue had to be taken apart to be shipped across the Atlantic, arriving in June 1885. Its pedestal was finished a year later, and its pieces reassembled around an iron frame. Finally, it opened to much fanfare on Oct. 28, 1886 — despite bad weather.
“The recent and huge structures at the lower end of Manhattan Island, at a distance from which the details are lost and the outlines and masses are alone visible, make New York a fit background for the most sumptuous aquatic spectacle,” The New York Times reported at the event.
About six years later, the government opened Ellis Island, the inspection site that more than 12 million immigrants would pass through in the decades to come. Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus,” describing the statue welcoming the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” was affixed to the statue’s pedestal in 1903.
Jesse Brackenbury, president and chief executive of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, said his organization was excited to be involved in a project celebrating America’s longstanding friendship with the people of France. “This educational exhibit is another great reason to visit Liberty and Ellis Islands around Independence Day, before the crowds grow further,” he said.