Putting Lady Liberty on a Pedestal

by Vesna Jaksic Lowe | Illustration Mitch Blunt
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There is no shortage of online crowdfunding websites — YouCaring, GoFundMe, Indiegogo, and Kickstarter are just a few of the popular ones. But crowdfunding existed long before the internet made online giving quick and easy.

An early example dates back to 1884 and involves one of America’s most cherished monuments, the Statue of Liberty.

France donated the statue, the work of French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. But money was needed to pay for the pedestal. Newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer sought donations in the New York World by appealing to Americans’ sense of civic responsibility.

“We must raise the money!” the call for donations thundered. “The World is the people’s paper, and now it appeals to the people to come forward and raise the money. The $250,000 that the making of the Statue cost was paid in by the masses of the French people — by the working men, the tradesmen, the shop girls, the artisans — by all, irrespective of class or condition. Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.”

In fact, one of the most famous of all American poems, Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” was written for the “Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty.” In Lazarus’s sonnet, the “Mother of Exiles” calls out from “silent lips”:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Within six months of Pulitzer launching his crusade, more than $100,000 was raised to pay for the 56 million pounds of concrete and granite from Connecticut that was used to construct the base. Most donations were $1 or less. Emma Lazarus would approve!

Vesna Jaksic Lowe is a New York-based communications consultant and writer. | British illustrator Mitch Blunt creates conceptual work for newspapers, magazines, and advertising.

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