Cause and Effect

Liberty’s Flame


France, who has a long and tumultuous relationship with Great Britain, was a supporter of the Colonies during the Revolutionary War. France had recently lost the Seven Years War and was eager for revenge and to keep Britain from becoming too powerful. When the Americans declared independence in 1776, France jumped at the chance to go to war against their old foe on another continent. French involvement in the American Revolutionary War lead to a longstanding friendship with the continental power.

France in the mid to late 1800s was a very divided nation. One such division was over support for the American Civil War. Napoleon III and many French industrialists favored the South because of imperial desires for Central and South America and cheap raw materials like cotton. Others favored the United States. This led to what was essentially a stalemate in French support for either of the warring parties and effective neutrality.

As legend has it, French law professor René de Laboulaye stated in 1865 that any monument were to be constructed to American freedom that it should be a joint effort between France and America, echoing the support France gave to the nascent country during the Revolutionary War. This comment was overheard, supposedly, by sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi. However, due to the repressive regime of Napoleon III and his favor for the South, the project would not start until 1870. Materials science played a huge part in the construction of the monument. The skin is copper, but the underlying structure is iron. Galvanic corrosion between the two was a concern, so Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel) created insulators made of asbestos impregnated with shellac. Mmmmm…asbestos. This design makes the Statue of Liberty one of the earliest examples of curtain wall construction, where the skin is not load bearing.

It was a 110-year span between the American Civil Revolutionary War and when the Statue of Liberty was finally erected in New York harbor. It started with France trying to get back at Britain and ended with a symbol of freedom and friendship.

[Image Credit: Retronaut]

  • chrystlubitshi

    check that last paragraph… I think "Civil" should be "Revolutionary"

    • OA5599

      I think the key term in the sentence you reference is "finally". The job wasn't finished until 1975, when Jim Beam released this commemorative bottle.

      <img src=""&gt;

      • chrystlubitshi

        -ahhhhhh…. nice pic.

        I'll read this again on monday, I turned my brain off early this week.

    • Doh!

      Fixed. And unlike other sites, we don't hide the edit.

      • chrystlubitshi


        although, OA5599 has a pretty good explanation too.

      • CaptianNemo2001

        """As legend has it, French law professor René de Laboulaye stated in 1865 that any monument were to be""""

        stated in 1865 that IF any monument.

        Another TYPO sorry. Great article otherwise.

  • Wolfie

    The Craftsmen required to hammer out this type of masterpiece are gone.
    This will be another forgotten skill.

    • Actually, they hammered out a whole bunch of new pieces during the restoration (wow, was that back in the Eighties? Whoo time flies.)

      They did need to import French (?) workers to teach Americans how it was done, though. I've seen a film about it, can't track it down right now.

      • Indeed. I've still got a Sears centennial token containing "authentic material" from the restoration. They glued them to their catalogs as part of a promotional effort to sell other commemorative items.

  • Felis_Concolor

    "But . . . but . . . how was I to know revolution is contagious?"

    – Louis XVI

  • B72

    After reading this, I read the wiki on the statue of liberty, the Franco Prussion war, Napoleon III, the history of Liechtenstein, and the history of Monaco. Thanks for opening the wormhole you educational bastard.

    • This is why it sometimes takes me 2 hours to write a 200 word post.

      • CaptianNemo2001

        I agree. I spent 3 days on a single page for a history paper. =/