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Anecdotes from the Archive

Anecdotes from the Archive


Intriguing finds from Scientific American's past
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A Very Happy Birthday to a Very Special Lady

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The Statue of Liberty. She is a symbol of freedom, an icon of New York City, and today is her birthday. In honor to celebrate, I’d like to share some images from an article from the August 14th, 1886 Scientific American that highlighted the methods of assembling Lady Liberty. After all, what’s birth without a gestation period?

Statue of Liberty cover image
While still in France, the statue’s shell was assembled and each piece was assigned a number or figure. Pieces that lined up next to each other had identical figures on sides which needed to fit together, creating a reassembly map. Each piece had a row of small holes on its edges, and when adjacent pieces lined up, their holes coincided so they could be riveted together.

The shell of the statue is made of very thin copper, making it somewhat pliable. When the pieces left France, they were tightly packed in wooden frames to prevent them from bending. However, some distortion inevitably occurred and once the pieces arrived, the laborers –with a lot of skill and patience—had to refit each piece. Iron bars were fitted to line the interior to give the shell extra strength and rigidity. The bars were bent to fit the contours of the copper, as seen in the close up of the face’s interior. Copper and iron were insulated from each other by a layer of shellac and asbestos in order to prevent and chemical reactions happening between the two metals.
Close up of Statue of Liberty face interior

The statue is braced by 2 systems of heavy girders, embedded deep into the pedestal, and 4 eye beams that connect the girders. The concrete foundation, which the article reported as “easily the largest single block of artificial stone in the world,” measured 90 feet square at the base, 65 feet square at the top, and 52 feet 10 inches in height.

Construction of the Statue of Liberty
The original date of the statue’s unveiling was set for September 3, 1886. However, all the intricate work needed to reassemble and erect the statue delayed the ceremony until October 28, 1886—which makes today the Statue of Liberty’s 125 Birthday!

About the Author: Nature Publishing Group and Scientific American are working to digitize all past issues of the magazine. Mary Karmelek is in charge of checking over each issue, and in the process she uncovers fascinating, captivating and humorous material buried in the yellowed pages of our past.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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