What does the Statue of Liberty hold in her right hand?

And the answer: a torch.

Dedicated in 1886 as a gift from the people of France, the Statue of Liberty holds a torch in her right hand, and a tablet in her left hand. The tablet displays the date of the Declaration of Independence in Roman numerals: July 4, 1776.    

Photo credit: public domain. 

In 1865, a Frenchman named Édouard de Laboulaye had an idea: gift a monument of freedom to the United States. The suggestion came in the wake of the recent Union victory in the American Civil War, a win which reaffirmed notions of freedom and democracy and served as a platform for de Laboulaye to argue that honoring the United States would strengthen the cause for democracy in France.

Alongside his friend and architect Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, Laboulaye set his dream to work. Bartholdi had previously proposed the idea of a commemorative statue for Egypt titled Egypt Bringing Light to Asia, but the expenses had run too high and the project was canceled. Drawing from these designs (and its proposed name), Bartholdi tweaked his plan to feature the Roman goddess of liberty: Libertas. Meanwhile, it's said that Bartholdi based the face of his statue off of his mother and used his wife as a model during the creation process.

Bartholdi and Laboulaye both agreed that the project should be a collaborated effort between the United States and France. As such, the U.S. would build the pedestal while France would build the statue. To represent a symbol of peace and commemorate the 100th anniversary of independence, the schedule was inscribed with the date of American independence: July 4, 1776 (using Roman numerals).

The project was so massive – and thus, so expensive – that just the completed torch went on display in Philadelphia to help raise funds for its completion. Meanwhile, in France, Gustave Eiffel (of, you guessed it, the Eiffel Tower) joined the project to build Lady Liberty's internal structure. In the end, the statue measured in at 305 feet tall and weighed over 450,000 pounds.

Did you know?

When the Statue was unveiled in 1886, it was a shiny brown color, like a penny. By 1906, the color had changed to the iconic green we know today. The reason for the color-change is due to its copper composition: the outer surface is covered with hundreds of thin copper sheets, which react with the air to form a verdigris. This bright bluish-green encrustation protects the copper underneath for years to come.

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