People around the world are familiar with the New York Statue of Liberty, designed by Frédéric Bartholdi, and inspired by the mutual respect between France and the United States in the early years of their individual Republics. Over the 130+ years of her existence, she has been a beacon of freedom, welcoming new comers to the United States, and acting as an enduring symbol of New York City, one of the greatest cities in the world.
statue of liberty, 2
The Statue of Liberty as a Lighthouse
One little remembered aspect of the Statue of Liberty is that she was originally designed as a lighthouse; to serve not only as a symbol of enlightenment, but to light the way for ships entering the New York harbor. On 28 October 1876, she opened to worldwide fanfare. Unfortunately, the primitive state of electric design caused the beacon to be more a firefly than a full-fledged lighthouse, marring the opening.
For three weeks, the United States government struggled with the complicated aspects of lighting her torch, finally opening her officially as a lighthouse on 22 November of 1876. Her life as a lighthouse was fraught with difficulties. The cost of lighting her torch was a yearly expense of $10,000, an astronomical sum when compared to the $1,000 annual salary of her first lighthouse keeper, Albert E Littlefield.
In 1877, the United States Lighthouse Board took on the maintenance and upkeep of the Statue of Liberty Lighthouse. While the problems of lighting the harbor had finally been resolved; allowing her beacon to shine up to 25 miles out to sea; the statue herself, covered in beaten copper, was not visible at night. After many false starts and expensive proposals, any hopes of lighting her were discarded as impossible to perform at the time.
After many requests for separate funding to maintain the Lighthouse, the Lighthouse Board became frustrated with the project; and ready to hand on her maintenance.
The End of the Lighthouse Years
The Statue of Liberty remained a lighthouse for only 24 years, with the lights turned off forever in 1901. Her care was handed over the War Department, much to the relief of the Lighthouse Board. Only a few years later, her copper plating had oxidized, giving her the green patina we see today.
This is only one fascinating aspect of the Statue of Liberty. She holds a rich past mirroring the turbulent history of the United States.