Today, a sneak preview of the Statue of Liberty.
The University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
I've been reading about the
Statue of Liberty in a magazine. But this magazine
is quite old. It's a Scientific American
from June 13, 1885. The statue had set sail to New
York from Rouen, in France, three weeks before. The
cover picture on the magazine is an artist's
impression of the Statue. In the picture, she looks
far less solid and purposeful than the statue you
and I know.
Scientific American becomes surer of itself
on the inner pages. There we find schematic
diagrams of the base and of the iron skeleton.
Gustave Eiffel had designed the inner skeleton
shortly before he turned his attention to the
Eiffel Tower. The magazine tells how artist Auguste
Frederic Bartholdi created the huge figure. First
he sculpted her in a seven-foot model. Then he made
an exact copy, roughly 35 feet tall. Finally he
chopped that model into sections and enlarged each
section by a factor of four. Then he shaped
3/32-inch copper plates to those pieces. Each plate
was to be hung on the steel frame in such a way
that it would impose no load on the other plates
The article has a lot to say about size. The
standard of comparison is the Colossus at Rhodes.
The Colossus, one of the Seven Wonders of the
Ancient world, stood just over a hundred feet tall
on a jetty at Rhodes. Liberty is to stand 151 feet
high. And, on her pedestal, she'll rise over 300
feet above the water.
Though Scientific American doesn't quote it,
Emma Lazarus had already written her famous poem,
The New Colossus. That's the one with the
lines that appear on the statue today: "Give me
your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning
to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your
teeming shore." The wording may have the ring of
political incorrectness, but the sentiment is still
unique to our America.
Less known are Lazarus' opening lines, "Not like
the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering
limbs astride from land to land." Never mind that
the Colossus didn't straddle anything, the point is
clear enough: America meant to reclaim the grandeur
of the ancient world. The rest of this
Scientific American issue has a lot to say
about new kinds of heavy machinery. It pictures
Booth's new flying machine -- an impractical
one-man ornithopter that certainly never flew.
Still, it's showing us America on the march.
The Statue of Liberty is leaven in that loaf. She
trumpets ideals that we've sometimes lived up to
and sometimes failed to. She's the big news in this
issue, and the news is important. The magazine
dwells on nuts and bolts, tables of dimensions. But
underneath it's clear this statue will become a new
national metaphor. Emma Lazarus calls her the
Mother of Exiles.
Grover Cleveland dedicated her the next year. The
iron skeleton was now covered over and that lovely
lady, clad in cuprous oxide, has called us to be
what we all would hope to be, ever since.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
Liberty Enlightening the World. Scientific
American, Vol. LII, No. 24, June 13, 1885.
Note Added Sept. 23, 2016: Student "Addie" points out that sources for this
Episode from 1999 were out of date. Here are more current sources.
See the Wikipedia article on the Statue of Liberty.
Here is another good source.
I say a lot more about the statue in its context in my book
Inventing Modern: Growing up with X-Rays, Skyscrapers, and Tailfins. Chapter 6.
From the 1885 Scientific American
Click on each of the thumbnails above for
The linked photo at the beginning is by J. H. Lienhard
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-1999 by John H.