The Statue of Liberty is an American icon. Shaped after the Roman goddess Libertas, she stands 151 feet tall and receives 4.5 million visitors each year. Her torch — which is a cleverly built replica of the original — serves as a welcoming beacon for immigrants, as well as a powerful symbol of patriotism for U.S. citizens.
But, as the saying goes: Freedom isn’t free. The National Park Service estimates that it costs at least $6 million annually to maintain both Liberty and Ellis islands.
Aside from maintenance costs, the Statue of Liberty and her island have undergone extensive renovations over the years; from a four-year refurbish in the 1980s to the addition of a new (and expensive) Statue of Liberty Museum in May 2019. It seems like a lot of effort to go to for an old statue. But as anyone who’s stood upon her crown can attest, there’s just something special about Lady Liberty.
Here’s a glimpse into the statue’s past — and exactly how much it cost to build her in the first place.
Last updated: June 15, 2020
The Birth of Lady Liberty
As many people know, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people of France to the people of America. But what was intended to celebrate America’s 100th birthday ended up taking a decade to assemble. After the French sculptor finished a piece, it would be sent to the U.S. and displayed as a reminder of the project.
Pictured: Parts of the statue arriving in Philadelphia for the 1876 Centennial Exposition.
The Intellectual and the Sculptor
Although the statue was originally Edouard de Laboulaye’s idea, the sculptor commissioned to build it went by the name of Auguste Bartholdi.
Laboulaye’s gift was two-sided. At face level, it commemorated the end of the American Civil War in time for the country’s centennial; but it was also meant to shame the repressive ruling tactics of French monarch Napolean III.
Pictured: Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty
Constructing a statue as massive as Lady Liberty was no small feat. Bartholdi enlisted the help of Alexandre Gustav Eiffel, who was responsible for the framework that supported the statue’s weight.
Pictured: Gustav Eiffel was the metal framework designer of the Statue of Liberty. He also built the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Although the Statue of Liberty was made in over 300 pieces, the torch was the real head-scratcher. Bartholdi couldn’t figure out how to make it glow brighter than the rest of the sculpture, which was made of glistening copper. There was thought of adding gold to the flame, but the money just wasn’t there.
Pictured: The forearm and torch of the Statue of Liberty on display at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, 1876. In order to raise funds for the completion of the statue and its pedestal, members of the public could pay 50 cents to climb to the balcony of the torch.
Liberty’s Left Hand, In Process
Pictured: Studio of Auguste Bartholdi, builder of the Statue of Liberty, in Paris: a model of the left hand was made out of wood, steel and plaster; Bartholdi stands second from right in conversation, circa 1880.
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Fundraising Before GoFundMe
The great statue was paid for entirely through fundraising. It was agreed that the people of France would pay for the actual statue, whereas America would pay for the pedestal it stood upon. But convincing the public to cough up the funds was no easy task.
Pictured: The head of the Statue of Liberty went on display in the garden at the Champ de Mars at the World’s Fair in Paris, 1978. It was intended to drum up support and contributions for the completion of the great project.
The French-American Union
The French-American Union was created in 1875 to promote the statue in France. They took donations from everywhere except the French government; including city governments, Parisian merchants, a copper company and even schoolchildren. In July 1880, they announced they had finally raised enough money to complete the statue.
Pictured: View of portions of the Statue of Liberty during its construction in the workshop of French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Paris, France, circa 1880. Bartholdi stands at left.
Total Cost of the Statue: $400,000
The final cost of the copper and steel statue came out to approximately 2 million francs, or $400,000 at the time.
Pictured: The Statue of Liberty in scaffolding at its manufacturing site in Paris, 1883.
The Left Hand, Completed 8 Years After the Right
Pictured: The left hand of the Statue of Liberty under construction. Sixty men worked for almost 10 years on the various parts of the statue, not including its designer Frederic Bartholdi and his assistants.
American Fundraising Falls Short
Similar to the French-America Union, the American Committee of the Statue of Liberty was founded to raise money for Lady Liberty’s pedestal. However, they had more trouble than the French.
Even after Bartholdi spent the centennial in the U.S. to promote the statue, Americans were reluctant to get behind it. Newspapers like The New York Times criticized the statue as folly and opposed spending money on it.
Pictured: Artwork of The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor by The American Bank Note Co. in 1883.
Slowly, But Surely
But Bartholdi was determined to see his work through. In the early 1880s, he circulated the rumor that the Statue of Liberty would be going to Boston instead of an ungrateful New York. The ploy worked; New Yorkers redoubled their fundraising efforts, and opposition dropped off.
Pictured: Statue of Liberty in Paris, 1884, torso emerging from the framework.
Final Years of Construction
Pictured: The framework for the right arm of the Statue Of Liberty during construction in Paris.
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Pictured: Laying the corner-stone of the pedestal for Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty on Bedloe’s Island (Liberty Island) in New York on Sept. 6, 1884.
While Bartholdi is the man behind the statue, Francis Hopkinson Smith is the lesser-known artist behind the foundation. The 65-foot-tall base was made in the shape of an 11-point star. It sits atop the 89-foot pedestal, bringing Lady Liberty’s total height to a staggering 305 feet.
Pictured: Francis Hopkinson Smith (1838-1915), American engineer and author. His most notable works were the base for the Statue of Liberty and novels set in the U.S. South.
The Final Pieces
Pictured: Unpacking the head of the Statue of Liberty, delivered on June 17, 1885, in New York.
Lazarus and Pulitzer Contribute To Liberty
By 1885, the U.S. still needed $100,000 to fund the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. Some of the most famous fundraising efforts were committed by poet Emma Lazarus and newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer.
Lazarus wrote the poem “The New Colossus” for the statue, which eventually linked it to the theme of immigration. In part, it reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free (…) Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The poem was later engraved on a plaque and placed inside the pedestal.
Pulitzer, on the other hand, incentivized donations by promising to print the name of every person who donated in his newspaper, The World. In a shocking turnout, more than 160,000 people donated, raising $101,091.
Pictured: The feet of the Statue of Liberty arrive on Liberty Island, 1885.
The Statue of Liberty Arrives in New York
Pictured: The Statue of Liberty arrives in New York Harbor on June 17, 1885, onboard the French frigate Isère. More than 200,000 New Yorkers came out to meet her. Photograph taken from on top of the awaiting unfinished pedestal of the statue.
Total Cost of the Pedestal: $250,000
The pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty stands cost a quarter-million dollars. While the American Committee of the Statue of Liberty was able to raise $150,000, it was mainly through Joseph Pulitzer’s efforts that the pedestal was finished.
Pictured: Edward Moran oil painting unveiling the Statue of Liberty in 1886.
Total Cost of the Statue and Pedestal: $650,000
Together, the Statue of Liberty and her pedestal cost a whopping $650,000 in 19th-century money.
Pictured: Inauguration of Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty in 1886 with a firework display.
Liberty Stands Tall
By the early 1900s, the Statue of Liberty’s coppery glow had gone green, though she was no less magnificent for it. Visitors could climb a staircase to the crown or even scramble up a ladder to view her face from inside the torch.
Pictured: The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor circa 1905.
World War I
World War I was not kind to Lady Liberty. In 1916, a German plan set off a series of explosions on Black Tom Island, less than a mile from Liberty Island. The explosions caused $100,000 in damage, and public access to the torch was never granted again.
Pictured: A group of people leaning out of the head of the Statue of Liberty in New York, 1930, seen from the torch above.
World War II
Pictured: Children evacuating from England during World War II, seen as they arrive in New York Harbor, waving in answer to the signal cheering of the famous Statue of Liberty.
Post-World War II
Pictured: Commerce merchant ships lie at anchor in front of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor in 1946 . The ships, tied up due to waterfront labor strikes. Few tugs and ferries are on the move.
Pictured: Interior spiral stairway, built within supporting structure of the Statue of Liberty, which visitors climb to reach the observation platform beneath the crown.
Pictured: The Statue of Liberty in New York is seen with the Manhattan skyline in the background, 1965.
More Fundraising for Liberty: 1982
Plans to refurbish the Statue of Liberty came about in 1982, when President Ronald Reagan formed the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Commission. The goal was to raise enough money to completely renovate the Statue of Liberty, as well as the historical buildings on neighboring Ellis Island.
Ellis Island is partially responsible for the reputation of Lady Liberty — she who welcomes immigrants to America. Between 1943 and 1954, the statue was the first thing that 17 million deportees saw as they entered the U.S.
Pictured: Statue of Liberty during restoration, close-up view of the left side of head showing detail of crown, Liberty Island, New York City, circa 1982-86.
Renovations Begin: 1984
In 1984, scaffolding was erected around the statue, much in the same way as when it was built. Workers were tasked with repairing holes, removing paint and replacing rusted bars. But the biggest renovation by far was the full replacement of the torch.
Pictured: Statue of Liberty during restoration, looking straight up; torch arm showing scaffolding and draped robe on Liberty Island in New York.
The Torch Is Taken Down
Pictured: The torch dangles above the Statue of Liberty after it was removed from her grasp in New York. At least 4,000 people and various harbor craft watched the historic event as nervous construction workers removed the 1½-ton torch and lowered it to its base for the Statue of Liberty renovations in 1984.
A New Torch
After removing the 16-foot, 3,600-pound original torch — to be displayed inside the pedestal — work began on a replica. The new torch was designed to look like Bartholdi’s original, with the addition of 24-carat gold leaf gilding: a detail that Bartholdi had been unable to afford.
Pictured: Gilding Statue of Liberty torch on Liberty Island in New York.
The Golden Torch
Pictured: Robert Gohard, a member of the French team that worked on the restoration of the Statue of Liberty, puts finishing touches of gilding on the statue’s new torch, 1985, in the same place where the original torch was constructed in France.
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Reopening Ceremonies: 1986
Pictured: Mrs. Nancy Reagan is joined by Kristeen Reft, 9, of Kodiak Island, Alaska, (left), and Laurence Honore of Herdville, France, (center), as all three wave from the crown of the Statue of Liberty during reopening ceremonies in New York. The Statue was closed to the public for a year during renovations.
July 4, 1986
Pictured: Fireworks illuminate the sky around the Statue of Liberty, during the finale of the official unveiling ceremony.
Total Cost of Renovations: $39 Million
The price tag of the renovations on the Statue of Liberty and her torch cost an estimated $39 million, which would be about $96 million in today’s money. However, that’s nothing compared to the renovations on Ellis Island, which came out to nearly $130 million, or $321 million today.
Pictured: Fireworks burst around the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor during celebrations of the famed monument’s restoration and 100th birthday.
Aftermath of 9/11
After the attacks on the World Trade Center — just 1 mile northeast of the statue — Lady Liberty was closed for 100 days. More than that, the pedestal was closed to the public until 2004, and the crown was closed until 2009.
Pictured: The Statue of Liberty is seen at first light in this view from Jersey City, New Jersey, against a smoke-filled backdrop of the lower Manhattan skyline after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The years following 9/11 were wrought with closures. In late 2011, the National Park Service closed the statue for safety upgrades. Then, in 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck, closing Liberty Island for nine months.
Pictured: Looking up at the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in New York.
After a dispiriting decade of closures, plans for upgrading Liberty Island began to take root. Since the 9/11 attacks, the National Park Service was forced to limit the number of visitors to the statue. To remedy this, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation proposed a new idea: a Statue of Liberty Museum, separate from both the statue and pedestal.
Pictured: View of Statue of Liberty in 2014, Liberty Island, New York. The statue’s face was said to be modeled on the sculptor’s mother.
Statue of Liberty Museum
The museum took roughly five years to complete. It was designed by architects FXCollaborative, with the exhibition design by ESI Design. New Yorkers eagerly awaited opening day in 2019.
Pictured: Statue of Liberty with its stone pedestal base.
Opening Day: May 16, 2019
The museum features 26,000 square feet of history. It’s an immersive experience, where visitors can watch film about the statue’s conception on curved, panorama screens. The star of the museum is Lady Liberty’s original torch, which was previously stored in the statue’s pedestal.
Pictured: Statue Of Liberty Museum on its opening day on Liberty Island in New York.
The Original Torch on Display
Pictured: The original torch, finished in 1876, can now be seen within the Statue of Liberty Museum.
Museum Offers a Look at the True American Story
The Statue of Liberty Museum goes beyond the face value of the statue. For decades, Americans have taken it as a symbol of freedom and American values, but it’s more than that.
The museum seeks to display the true origins of the statue: as a celebration of emancipation and true liberty for all. And also, as a beacon for immigrants who have come to find their own version of the American dream. To add to this message, the museum offers audio tours in 12 different languages.
Pictured: Tourists visit the Statue of Liberty and museum on Liberty Island, just off the coast of lower Manhattan in New York.
Total Cost of the Museum: $70 Million
Fortune estimates the total cost of the Statue of Liberty Museum to be over $70 million.
Pictured: Statue Of Liberty Museum on its opening day on Liberty Island in New York.
Total Cost of the Statue of Liberty: At Least $109.65 Million
When you add up the costs to build the statue and pedestal, refurbish them in the ’80s and create a separate museum in 2019, the total comes out to nearly $110 million. But this is likely far from the true total, as maintenance runs around $6 million each year; not the mention the repairs after 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.
However, after more than 100 years of preserving this beauty, the people of New York will seemingly take on any cost for their Lady Liberty.
Pictured: Statue of Liberty Museum and Flagpole Plaza seen from the statue.
Liberty Enlightening the World
Pictured: Aerial view of Statue of Liberty from the rear overlooking blue water in New York. The statue stands 305 feet and 1 inch from the ground.
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Chase Brock contributed to the reporting for this article.