Frederic August Bartholdi: The Man Behind Lady Liberty

USA, New York State, New York City, Aerial view of city with Statue of Liberty at sunset
Frederic Auguste Bartholdi is most famous for designing the Statue of Liberty. Tetra Images/Getty Images

Frederic August Bartholdi, best known for designing the Statue of Liberty, had a diverse background that inspired his career as a sculptor and monument creator.  

Bartholdi's Early Life

Frederic August Bartholdi’s father died soon after he was born, leaving Bartholdi’s mother to pack up the family home in Alsace and move to Paris, where he received his education. As a young man, Bartholdi became something of an artistic polymath.

He studied architecture. He studied painting. And then he became enthralled by the artistic field that would occupy and define the rest of his life: Sculpture.

Bartholdi's Budding Interest in History and Liberty

Germany’s seizure of Alsace in the Franco-Prussian War seemed to ignite in Bartholdi a fierce interest in one of the founding French principles: Liberty. He joined the Union Franco-Americaine, a group dedicated to fostering and commemorating the commitments to independence and liberty that united the two republics.

The Idea for the Statue of Liberty

As the centennial of America’s independence approached, French historian Edouard Laboulaye, a fellow member of the group, suggested presenting the United States with a statue commemorating the alliance of France and the United States during the American Revolution.

Bartholdi signed on and made his proposal. The group approved it and set about raising more than a million francs for its construction.

About the Statue of Liberty

The statue is constructed of copper sheets assembled on a framework of steel supports designed by Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. For transit to America, the figure was disassembled into 350 pieces and packed in 214 crates. Four months later, Bartholdi’s statue, “Liberty Enlightening the World,” arrived in New York Harbor on June 19, 1885, almost ten years after the centennial of America’s independence.

It was reassembled and erected on Bedloe's Island (renamed Liberty Island in 1956) in New York Harbor. When finally erected, the Statue of Liberty stood more than 300 feet high.

On October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty before thousands of spectators. Since the 1892 opening of nearby Ellis Island Immigration Station, Bartholdi's Liberty has welcomed more than 12,000,000 immigrants to America. Emma Lazarus's famous lines, engraved on the statue's pedestal in 1903, are linked to our conception of the statue Americans call Lady Liberty:

"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 "
—Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus," 1883

Bartholdi's Second-Best Work

Liberty Enlightening the World was not Bartholdi’s only well-known creation. Perhaps his second-best-known work, the Bartholdi Fountain, is in Washington, DC.