Philanthropic Lethargy

With the statue taking shape, activity increased in 1881, a full decade after the gift was offered. New York held a design competition for the pedestal, despite having secured almost no funding. The committee selected architect Richard Morris Hunt for the project, and he submitted a design within months of receiving the commission.

Men at the base of the unfinished pedestal C. 1884.

Men at the base of the unfinished pedestal C. 1884. Via Musée des arts et métiers, Fonds Bartholdi

Another two years passed before work on the foundation began and the funding still proved problematic. The American Committee of the Franco-American Union reached out to New York’s wealthiest residents for ten thousand dollar contributions, but such families as the Astors, Vanderbilts and Rockefellers declined to participate.

This reluctance to contribute to the pedestal points to an aesthetic issue. Many wealthy individuals expressed concerns over the reception of the design. No American public sculpture of similar size and style existed, and this appeared to be a risky endeavor.

Globally, New York’s inability to quickly raise the funds became interpreted as a general lack of interest. Paris, Philadelphia and various other cities expressed interest in serving as locations for the statue. By 1885, work was at a standstill and fundraising lagged.

Luckily for New York City, Joseph Pulitzer and his populist orientation came to the rescue.

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