How the Statue of Liberty Almost Ended Up in Egypt

Posted October 8th, 2014 at 4:02 pm (UTC-4)
18 comments

The Statue of Liberty looks out on the lower Manhattan skyline, January 2014. (AP)

The Statue of Liberty looks out on the lower Manhattan skyline, January 2014. (AP)

Instead of imploring the world to “give me your tired, your poor”, the Statue of Liberty’s welcoming message might well have been “as-salamu alaykum”, the Arabic greeting used by Muslims around the world.

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That’s right, the world’s most recognized symbol of freedom and the American dream, was originally intended for Egypt, which ultimately rejected it for being too old fashioned.

The decision came as a disappointment to Lady Liberty’s creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who’d envisioned the Suez Canal as the ideal venue for his mammoth harbor structure.

Statue of Liberty creator Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi original design for the mouth of the Suez Canal in Egypt.

Statue of Liberty creator Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s original design for the mouth of the Suez Canal in Egypt.

“He was inspired by the Sphinx and the pyramids and the idea you could create something massive that could almost be eternal,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, who brings Bartholdi’s quest to life in her book Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty.

Mitchell was motivated to write the book after coming across Bartholdi’s diaries at the New York City Public Library. That’s when she first realized the iconic symbol wasn’t a gift from France as many Americans believe.

“In fact, the true story is more moving because what you have is this individual artist who had a vision and he really wanted to make this happen,” Mitchell said, “and he really had to go through every machination to get this thing built.”

After his failure in Egypt, the artist shifted his attention to America, which was prospering after the end of the Civil War. 

“Maybe no other country at the time would understand the excitement and importance of having this bigger-than-life, colossal symbol,” Mitchell said.

Lady Liberty creator Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi

Lady Liberty creator Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi

The Statue of Liberty has stood in New York’s harbor for 128 years, since 1886. In order to secure her spot there, Bartholdi worked hard to promote his statue concept. To help with fundraising, he put parts of the statue on display and charged admission. The arm and torch were exhibited in Philadelphia in 1876 and the head in Paris in 1878.

“He wanted something astounding. He wanted to create one of those things that amazed fellow humans,” said Mitchell. “He definitely wanted to commemorate the idea of liberty and what that meant, and keep that as a reminder in the world of what a government comprised of individuals could do in the world.”

Americans had to raise more money than the French to bring the statue to New York. Newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer championed the cause by offering to publish the name of every person who donated even a dollar to the effort.

Liberty's head on display at the Paris Exposition of 1878.

Liberty’s head on display at the Paris Exposition of 1878.

Bartholdi, who saw his statue as a way to remind Americans how much the French had sacrificed during the Revolutionary War, believed the strong bond between the two countries would endure, according to Mitchell.

No one knows who Bartholdi modeled Lady Liberty after and the artist himself never said. But Mitchell believes her strong-boned face, and its troubled expression, were modeled after Bartholdi’s beloved but mentally disturbed brother, who ended up in an insane asylum.

“In all of Bartholdi’s public works, he always used the faces of people he knew and loved,” Mitchell said. “It makes sense to use a troubled face because he didn’t see liberty as something that would be won easily.”

Bartholdi did worry that American commercialism would sully his statue’s reputation.

“He worried that all Americans cared about was money,” said Mitchell, “that they didn’t have a higher value than that.”

The question of who served as the model for the Statue of Liberty's face and expression remains unanswered. (AP)

The question of who served as the model for the Statue of Liberty’s face and expression remains unanswered. (AP)

Bartholdi even copyrighted the statue’s image, so that he would be paid every time someone used an image of his creation, but he ultimately found it too difficult to enforce.

His quest to build the Statue of Liberty was not easy or fast.

Bartholdi arrived in the United States with his Statue of Liberty proposition in 1871 but it wasn’t until 1886 that the completed statue was officially unveiled in its current New York location. Despite those 15 years of challenges and setbacks, Bartholdi stayed focused and never questioned his mission.

“He never doubted his project was a good one,” Mitchell said. “He believed that the statue would be very important one day.”

In that prediction, Bartholdi proved to be a true visionary. Today, Liberty Island is one of New York’s most popular attractions, drawing more than 3 million visitors a year and his creation has become one of America’s most enduring symbols of liberty and freedom.

18 responses to “How the Statue of Liberty Almost Ended Up in Egypt”

  1. Gerry Gill says:

    Maybe the reason the statue was rejected in Egypt was because the torch is held in the left hand in that version – a distinct no-no in Islamic society!

  2. Please dont forget to mention Gustave Eiffel colaboration on its structure.

  3. mr zaned says:

    Your name seems to be a Egyptian . The liberty and democracy are not fit to Egypt. those who claimed democracy in Egypt never believe it. Muslim brotherhood a fascist movement. other youth organization are paid by Muslim brotherhood. what Muslim Brotherhood is a criminal . Muslim Brotherhood want establish Islamic state and beheading will be the land. Muslim brotherhood is the dirties organization in the face of Earth and it used liar and deception to achieve its goal

    • TALAT ALBADRY says:

      Dear Zaned,
      You have to be honest and objective in your sying; Muslim brotherhood is a group of the Egyptian society. They are our neighbours, collegues or classmates. Actually, they are fare away from violance having good manners. As you have said they want to establish ” The Islamic State” , but real Islamic State like that of the prophet Muhammad, that mainly based on justice, right and peace. As a matter of fact, Muslim Brotherhood are right now subject to a defamating media compaigne.

    • anisha says:

      Shut these blunders. Now DEMOCRACY and Diplomacy means 100% Hipocracy.
      After Dollar is single eyed. Just see your dollar once agian

    • Maximus says:

      Tell that to the citizens who live in Ferguson Missouri where american democracy is ridiculed in a worse fashion than anything i have seen in the middle east

  4. anisha says:

    Decline of Democracy begin when the democratically elected president overthrown by the criminals in Egypt. and US supported it indirectly.

  5. Mr K says:

    Areb you going to tell me that Muslim brotherhood is non violent organization this is a liar. who opened jail and free criminal like Morsi and Beltagi? who burn 82 churches? Who killed protesters? Who Want sell Egypt to Qatar for commission for Muslim Brotherhood member. Who kill protesters? who kidnapped protester.? Who has 82 years of violent history .there is only one answer is Muslim brotherhood

  6. Mark says:

    One thing struck me odd here….. quote, “He worried that all Americans cared about was money,” said Mitchell, “that they didn’t have a higher value than that.”
    Bartholdi even copyrighted the statue’s image, so that he would be paid every time someone used an image of his creation, but he ultimately found it too difficult to enforce.
    He thought Americans only cared about money, but then he tried to copyright it, so he could be paid every time someone used its image. Hypocrite.

    • Todd McDaniel says:

      What is interesting to note is people whom have a great understanding of the French know one thing. Everything is contingent on money. Generally first words uttered by people when they refer to anyone of French background.

  7. Abu, J. E. says:

    I’m happy to know about the statue of liberty, how can one get the book by Elizabeth Mitchell “the statue of liberty”.

  8. Scott says:

    He was worried that all americans worried about was money but copy righted it so he could be paid anytime someone used the image of the statue? Hmm??

  9. MJMcPherson says:

    The gift was probably not called “Statue of Liberty” when it was offered to Egypt. Plan B changed the name so he could hype the sale to USA. The whole story of “give me your poor” was propaganda to make American citizens feel good and pay for it.

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