At 151 feet (46 metres) tall, the Statue of Liberty is an impressive symbol of freedom, hope and national identity. When it was first built, over 135 years ago, it was the tallest iron structure ever built. From the mid-nineteenth century, it became a symbol of immigration too. For the nine million immigrants who arrived in New York during the period, it was the first thing they saw. It’s in movies, books, TV, theme parks – even Andy Warhol painted “Statue of Liberty” as part of his Pop Art series in the 1960s. It’s recognised worldwide, but we’ll wager you could still learn a thing or two about the monumental Lady Liberty. Here are a few interesting facts about the Statue of Liberty to get you up to speed.
Interesting Facts About the Statue of Liberty
1. She’s French
Lady Liberty may be a proud symbol of American national identity, but did you know she’s actually from France? The French gifted America the statue in 1886, as a celebration of the union’s victory in the American abolition of slavery. It was also hoped that it might inspire French people to fight for their own democracy, under the oppressive regime of Napolean III.
Gustave Eiffel, the man behind the Eiffel Tower, designed the Liberty’s ‘spine’ – the four iron columns holding the copper skin. The sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi designed the statue, and it’s widely believed that the statue’s face is based on his mother. A hefty compliment.
2. It’s not green paint
The Statue of Liberty is a beguiling shade of green, but that wasn’t intentional. When the statue was unveiled in 1886, it was as brown as a copper penny. By 1906, oxidation had covered it in a sea-green gloss or ‘patina’.
When the Statue of Liberty first turned green, unsurprisingly people were unsure what to do. Back then, it was under the Army’s authority because Bedloe’s Island (Liberty Island) was an active military base. A story made its way into the papers about plans to paint the statue. People didn’t take kindly to this. Even the country’s largest bronze and copper manufacturer claimed it would be vandalism, because of the protective quality of the patina.
So it wasn’t painted in 1906, and it hasn’t been painted since.
3. There’s a lot to Lady Liberty’s crown
Climbing to the top of the Statue of Liberty is a bucket-list trip, but it isn’t all about the views. The seven spikes represent the seven oceans and seven continents of the world, a symbol of the universal concept of liberty.
To reach the top, you’ll need to climb up a 354 step twisting staircase – the equivalent of a 20 storey building. After the September 11 attacks, the statue was closed. The pedestal reopened in 2004 and the statue reopened in 2009.
There are sweeping views of New York Harbour from the crown’s 25 windows. It’s well-lit too. In fact, in 1944, the crown’s lights famously flashed “dot-dot-dot-dash” which means “V, for Victory in Europe” in Morse code.
4. It seems lightning does strike twice… and some
It’s thought that the Statue of Liberty is hit by around 600 bolts of lightning every year. Jay Fine was the first to capture the phenomenon with a spectacular action shot back in 2010.
In 2020, Staten Island resident Mike Calabrese captured some insane video footage of the statue being struck by lightning four times (take a look at it here)
The core structure is capable of shifting in the wind without cracking or bending. In high winds, the torch sways around five inches (12.7 cm) side-t0-side and the whole statue can sway up to three inches (7.5 cm) in any direction too.
5. No one can touch the torch
Once upon a time, you could get inside the torch. But in 1916, there was an explosion in the middle of the night on Black Tom Island. It killed seven people and a piece of shrapnel hit the nearby Statue of Liberty. The island was a centre for the production of armaments being shipped to Europe to aid Britain and France. It was initially thought that the explosion was caused by negligence but after years of investigations, Germany admitted responsibility. The US was neutral during World War I but it’s now understood that Germany believed the arms production to be an act of war. In 1939 $50 million was awarded to plaintiffs in the Black Tom explosion, the largest settlement by an international tribunal.
The National Park Service website describes the explosion, now known as the “Black Tom”, as one of the largest acts of sabotage to the nation prior to Pearl Harbor.
The torch-bearing arm suffered significant damage, with repair works amounting to around $100,000. The stairs to the arm were closed off to the public for safety reasons, and they’ve never been opened since.
6. Cinema has not been kind to Lady Liberty
As one of the most celebrated landmarks in the United States, it’s unsurprising that filmmakers want to make the most of it. In the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes, the Statue is famously half-buried in sand. In Independence Day, she topples over during an alien invasion. The Day After Tomorrow sees the statue holding strong during a storm surge, but she does freeze and we’re pretty sure all that flooding means no one can visit her anytime soon.
Some movies are a little kinder. In Ghostbusters II, Lady Liberty is brought to life by the Ghostbusters in a bid to save New York City.
7. She’s inspired by a Roman Goddess
Lady Liberty is modelled on Libertas, a Roman Greek Goddess who personifies freedom. Libertas became a highly political figure during the Late Republic and after the assassination of Julius Caesar, appearing on coins and other artefacts.
The broken chains near the statue’s feet likely represent breaking free from “tyranny and servitude.”