Beginning in 1881, Parisians had watched the process of the giant copper statue being made at the Gaget, Gauthier and Cie Workshop with excitement. Many French people had enthusiastically donated their own funds to the effort, and it paid off handsomely. The gleaming statue now rose above the streets of Paris, a telltale example of the French admiration for the American people. When the Statue was dismantled and put on the frigate Isere to begin her trek to the United States, many French had lined the streets to bid her a fond bon voyage on her way to the New World.
As the Isere made its way across the Atlantic in 1885, one glaring fact could not be ignored--there was no pedestal on which the Statue could stand. Clearly, the Americans did not share the French people's admiration, and the absence of a pedestal spoke this message loud and clear. Americans had not donated their funds for a few reasons. The 1880's were the height of the Gilded Age; the pursuit of wealth and industrialization took precedence over aesthetic pursuits. This was not a time to create enduring works of art that all could enjoy, it was time to amass your fortune for you and your immediate family. Americans also believed the French were manipulating them into accepting their philosophy which they found particularly abhorrent; ironically it was this self-determination that the French admired the most in the Americans. When the Statue entered the New York Harbor in 1885, there was no pedestal for her to stand upon.
The only solution was to unload the crates off the Isere onto Bedloe's Island, and hope that enough money could eventually be raised to pay for the pedestal. Everyone hoped that someone would come up with a plan, but no one did. The Statue of Liberty sat in crates for over a year on the island after her heartfelt adieu and journey from her home country. Who would be able to take up the fundraising campaign and how they were going to do it were still unknown.
Enter Joseph Pulitzer. Pulitzer, at the time the Statue of Liberty sailed into New York Harbor, owned and operated a newspaper called The New York World, which he then renamed simply as The World. Having come to this country at the age of 19, he needed to teach himself English in order to hold a series of jobs, including lumberjack, lawyer and politician.
He started out poor and made his way into journalism and publishing, becoming a magnate in the process. Clearly, this man was the embodiment of the American dream. His patriotic involvement in the fundraising for the Pedestal of the Statue of Liberty makes perfect sense. However, Pulitzer had his own, deeply personal agenda. He had marketed The World as the newspaper of the masses, and he was interested in shaming wealthy New Yorkers who, "would expend thousands on a foreign singer or ballet dancer and pour out their money lavishly in aping aristocratic follies". Pulitzer felt that the Statue "is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaire of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America". His appealing to the civic responsibility of the working class and his disparagement of the wealthy was displayed in a very simple and very fundraising technique.
He proposed to print the name of every individual who donated to the construction of the pedestal, no matter how small the amount. Everyone who donated would see their name printed on the front page of The World. In addition, Pulitzer would also print human interest stories that were sometimes included in the payment envelope; stories of children raising enough money to donate must have been a powerful motivator to adults.
By the fall of 1885 over 120,000 people had donated over $100,000. Work would finally be completed on the Statue of Liberty's pedestal, which is comprised of 56 million pounds of concrete and granite from Connecticut. Thanks to the Hungarian-American Joseph Pulitzer, we can admire the Statue of Liberty today, rising out of the New York Harbor, greeting all ships that enter the bay.
Last updated: February 26, 2015