The Statue of Liberty by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi is a woman with a secret past. The Green Goddess as we know her today has many secrets. She was not always destined for the United States. She was originally conceived as a beacon for the Suez Canal. In her early days, she looked quite different from the lady we know today.
Yes, she was always a tall woman who lit the way for others. But originally, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi envisioned a dark-skinned peasant girl in Egyptian robes. Instead of a torch, that girl held a lamp. In some versions, she was holding a jar, or balfalis, a vessel that symbolized abundance and good fortune. In her gig at the Suez Canal, she was to stand for friendship and free navigation. “Egypt, the Beacon of Asia” would be carved on her pedestal.
Frederic Auguste Bartholdi visited Luxor, the ancient capital of Thebes in Egypt in 1855. He was in his 20s then and deeply affected by its enormous statues. He was particularly touched by the Colossus of Rhodes. A sculptor with grand plans, he smelled an opportunity to create his own Colossus for the Suez Canal.
By providing a shortcut for vessels so they could skip the treacherous trip around the Southern tip of Africa, the 101-mile-long Suez Canal promised to transform international shipping. Unfortunately, the Suez Canal took more than 15 years to plan and construct thanks to construction problems, political disputes and labor shortages, not to mention an outbreak of cholera.
Ferdinand de Lesseps obtained a concession to build the Suez Canal from Sa’id Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan. He was to construct and run the canal for 99 years. When the Suez Canal was nearing completion, Bartholdi pitched his idea to de Lesseps. The statue would be as great as the pyramids or the sphinxes. It was to be called “Egypt Bringing Light to Asia.”
Bartholdi created multiple sketches and revisions of revisions before he realized that the price tag for his dream girl had given his potential clients sticker shock. With all of the set backs suffered in the construction of the Suez Canal, there was no budget for a $600,000 peasant woman.
Bartholdi Re-Designs And Moves On
Determined to make his mark, Bartholdi was not about to give up. He had a new idea when he heard a comment made by Edouard Rene de Laboulaye. The French law professor and politician said that a monument should be raised to American independence. Additionally, he said that monument should be a joint project of the French and American people.
Bartholdi changed up his concept. The Egyptian peasant became the robed woman we know and love today. She was designed to represent Libertas, the Roman goddess who carries a torch and a tablet evoking the law. Inscribed on that tablet: July 4, 1776, the date of the American Declaration Independence.
Bartholdi was awarded design patent D11, 023 for his design of the Statue of Liberty in 1879. With that patent, came his right to sell small versions of the statue. He was able to raise a modest amount of money from those sales. Ultimately, Joseph Pulitzer figured out how to crowd-fund the Statue of Liberty and Bartholdi succeeded in creating an iconic statue.
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