"On This Day" In Engineering History Blog

"On This Day" In Engineering History

Tune in to find out about significant engineering events that took place "on this day".

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June 17, 1885: The Statue of Liberty Arrives

Posted June 17, 2008 10:30 AM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor. A gift from the people of France, the 151-ft. tall statue depicts a robed woman holding a lit flame, with a crown atop her head and a tablet in her hand. Lady Liberty's classical style combines features of Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, and Apollo, the Greek god of the sun. The statue's radiant crown contains seven spikes that represent the seven continents and the seven seas. The torch represents enlightenment, the tablet represents knowledge, and the statue's left foot tramples broken shackles to suggest freedom from tyranny. The statue's tablet also displays the birthday of the United States, (July 4, 1776), a reminder to visitors that this metal monument was a gift to commemorate 100 years of independence.

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and Alexandre Gustave Eiffel

The Statue of Liberty arrived nine years after the U.S. centennial and nearly 20 years after French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi envisioned a similar structure as a lighthouse at the entrance to the Suez Canal. Although the Egyptians rejected Bartholdi's expensive idea, the sculptor would re-use his design's classical elements and colossal scale in France's gift to the American people. After Frédéric Bartholdi sculpted a model of the statue and earned a U.S. patent for a miniature version, Alexandre Gustave Eiffel designed an internal structure made of steel. Eiffel, an architect and acclaimed structural engineer, had once worked as the project manager for a railway bridge, but would become best known for designing the structure that bears his name – the Eiffel Tower.

Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and Copper Repoussé

Bartholdi and Eiffel were joined by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, a French architect who selected copper as the sheeting material for the Statue of Liberty. To form the copper, Viollet-le-Duc used repoussé, a metalworking technique that shapes a malleable metal by hammering it from the reverse side. Although repoussage is a relatively slow process, there is no loss of material. Using wooden structures, beveled hammers, and special saws, Viollet-le-Duc carefully created the statue's exterior. Today, the copper statue is green-blue, the result of a chemical reaction with the salty air above New York Harbor. The Statue of Liberty's copper is quite durable, however. According to Copper.org, the website of the Copper Development Association (CDA), "weathering and oxidation of the copper skin has amounted to just .005 of an inch in a century."

Handle With Care: 300 Pieces and 214 Crates

On June 17, 1885, the French frigate Isère arrived in New York Harbor bearing a gift for the United States. The vessel was led by the French flagship La Flore, and escorted by an American naval escort and boats from the American Yacht Club. Over 50 steam ships from New York's Steam and Sail Vessel Association also joined the flotilla. Aboard the Isère lay the Statue of Liberty, reduced to 300 pieces and packed in 214 crates. When filled, these specially-constructed cases ranged in weight from several hundred pounds to several tons. Once the title papers to the statue were transferred to the United States, the Isère was docked at Bedloe's Island, where the statue's parts remained in crates for almost a year due to a lack of funding. Finally, after a reassembly project which lasted four months, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886.








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