In America

After a transatlantic voyage, the first completed piece of the statue made its debut on May 18th, 1876 at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition.

Liberty’s assembled arm and torch proved sensational almost immediately. The installation drew huge crowds who, for a fee, climbed the staircase to the torch to peer out across Fairmount Park. The American Committee also sold such souvenirs as photos of the work, lithographs, pieces of scrap metal, and statue figurines, like the ones here at the City Reliquary. In fact, the photo below proved to be the most popular memento of the entire Centennial Exposition, despite the fact that Liberty’s arm arrived only a few weeks before the fair’s closing.

Stereographic card picturing the exhibition of Liberty's arm and torch at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Courtesy of The New York Public Library

Stereographic souvenir card picturing the exhibition of Liberty’s arm and torch at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Courtesy of The New York Public Library

Exhibition of the arm proved essential in solidifying American interest in the project. In displaying part of the work, Bartholdi offered a taste of his craftsmanship, took advantage of the patriotic fervor surrounding the centennial, and cleverly capitalized on a rivalry between New York and Philadelphia.

One pivotal event came when The New York Times suggested that the arm could stand alone as a sculpture, and that Bartholdi perhaps never intended to complete the full woman. In response to this criticism Bartholdi angrily implied that he might allow Philadelphia to claim the statue instead of New York.

In suggesting this change in plans, Bartholdi played on existing urban rivalries. Further, he secured an additional exhibition in New York’s Madison Square Park. The arm and torch rested there for six years, continuing to generate the interest and pedestal money the project so desperately needed. This extended exhibition also helped to secure the statue’s future in New York. Congress formally accepted the gift from France and, on March 3, 1877, President Grant officially sanctioned Bedloe’s Island as the statue’s site.

With the statue’s future bright, France completed its fundraising push and Bartholdi continued to construct the mammoth structure throughout the late 1870s and early 1880s.

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