Happy Birthday Lady Liberty: Copper Keeps You Standing Tall for 125 Years

June 28, 2011


NEW YORK, NY-As we get ready to celebrate July 4, take a moment to wish happy birthday to the Statue of Liberty, who celebrates her 125th birthday this year.

She's been a proud symbol of our nation's freedom and has stood the test of time - with the help of the 31 tons (62,000 pounds) of copper, the mighty metal that continues to be a sustainable, recyclable material widely used today, according to the Copper Development Association.

In October, the Statue of Liberty will close for nine to eleven months to install a secondary stairwell down from the pedestal as a safety measure. It hasn't been the first time the historic sculpture has been upgraded or restored in its 125 year history. But copper has been there since the beginning - "Virtually intact… despite the deterioration of other metals," National Park Service architect Peter Dessauer said in 1984, during its 100-year anniversary restoration.

A Monument Sustainable over Time-Thanks to Copper

The Statue of Liberty in her full copper patina.

Photo courtesy of maisa_nyc.

Sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty as a gesture of friendship between France and the U.S. He completed the statue in 1884 and it was dedicated in October 1886.

Copper has helped maintain the strength and beauty of the Statue of Liberty over a century of sea wind and rain, which have naturally oxidized to give her a green patina. In 1906, Congress appropriated $62,000 to paint her, but protests resulted in the abandonment of the idea. "Sacrilege," said a newspaper report at the time.

On the 50th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, maintenance workers constructed a 250-foot copper apron over the pedestal to prevent water seepage.

A manager said at the time, "In the future, Miss Liberty's feet will be kept dry with this protective coating."

As her 100th anniversary approached, the Statue of Liberty required additional work, including the repair of Lady Liberty's torch, arm and shoulder. Workers erected a scaffold around the entire 12-story edifice as more than 500 skilled laborers scrubbed the copper clean without removing the patina. The interior received additional structural repairs. The Statue of Liberty closed again in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and reopened in 2004 after a $20 million upgrade.

Copper Use in the Statue of Liberty

  • Some 80 tons of copper sheet, originally about a quarter-inch thick, were cut into 300 pieces and hand hammered in place.
  • The copper sheeting is 3/32nds of an inch thick-or the thickness of two pennies placed together.
  • The copper skin sections are attached to the armature, the secondary frame that conforms to the contour of the statue, by 1,500 U-shaped copper saddles, using 300,000 copper rivets. The copper fastenings ensure structural stability.
  • What makes the Statue of Liberty green? Give credit to the copper sheeting, which naturally oxidized over time to create the patina, which protects Lady Liberty from wind and wear.
  • The Statue of Liberty was the largest use of copper in a single structure at the time. And it was the most resilient. When the Statue of Liberty underwent a renovation in 1986, the copper corrosion weight was only 5%-after 100 years of battling the elements. Now that's a testimony to copper's sustainability over time.

And Lady Liberty's figure?

Ground to tip of torch: 305 feet, one inch.

Length of hand: 16 feet, five inches.

Index finger: Eight feet.

Width of head: 10 feet.

Width of eye: Two feet, six inches.

Length of nose: Four feet, six inches.

Width of mouth: Three feet.

And yes, her bust is a perfect 36 - feet!