If you wish to see the Statue of Liberty up close today you pay a fee of $17.00 to take the ferry to what was formerly Bedloe’s Island. Once there and past security you can admire the weathered green lady’s height and read from the large plaque at her base the words of Emma Lazarus’s aptly named poem “The New Colossus.” The poem famously entreats the world to send America “…your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the same masses who, when funding for the Statue of Liberty stalled, helped successfully fund the project for sometimes less than $1 per person.
In 1873 a decrease in the demand for silver across the globe helped spark a financial panic that effected several European countries as well as the United States. Nine years after this crisis America began its efforts to fund the construction of the Statue of Liberty on its own soil. By this time some parts of the statue had already been completed in France. Indeed, the Statue of Liberty’s head had been on display at the Paris World’s Fair in 1878 and the following year the nation of France, with the aid of a government lottery among other fundraising methods, had collected 250,000 francs for donation. The statue’s creator, Frédéric Bartholdi, planned to construct the statue in France and ship it over to the U.S. in pieces for reconstruction upon arrival. The structure was completed and presented to the American ambassador to France on July 4, 1884. Meanwhile, back in the states, efforts to raise funds to complete the project were proving less successful.
After various auctions and proposed government allocations failed to contribute the amount of money necessary work on the statue’s pedestal was suspended indefinitely. As some US cities put in bids to have the statue relocated, the Hungarian-American publisher of the New York World, Joseph Pulitzer, began a campaign of his own. On March 16, 1885, Pulitzer published a call to the citizens of America to contribute to the funding in any way they could by saying “Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. [the statue] is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.” Soon, donations started to arrive and as they did the paper published some of the letters accompanying the contributions. The letters came from large cross sections of America and included a group of children who donated $1 they’d initially raised to pay for their trip to the circus, to a $15 donation from a home for alcoholics and many more stories of self sacrifice in between.
For the next five months the paper published daily appeals to the generosity of the American public. In August of 1885 Pulitzer announced that an estimated 125,000 people had contributed to the fund (most of them for less than $1) and as a result the World had collected more than $100,000, enough to finish erecting the statue. In thanks, New York World published the names of all who donated money regardless of the amount sent. The statue of liberty was officially dedicated on October 28, 1886. The general public, who had helped make the completion of the statue possible, were barred from attending the ceremony on the island but did enjoy a parade through New York City earlier in the day.