When the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York City in 1885, it was not fully assembled. It arrived from Paris in 350 pieces (packed into 214 crates), and was delivered with an instruction manual on how to put it all back together. The Planet of the Apes-esque photographs documenting the construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi's statue are part of the New York Public Library's vast collection of historic photos.

Scaffolding for the assemblage of the Statue of Liberty, of which the head is shown at left, in Paris.

Scaffolding for the assemblage of the Statue of Liberty, in Paris.

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Scaffolding for the assemblage of the Statue of Liberty, in Paris.
Albert Fernique / NYPL

Joshua Chuang, Associate Director for Art, Prints and Photographs at the NYPL, told Gothamist that Bartholdi "had hoped to complete the monumental statue by 1876, the centennial of our Declaration of Independence, but public donations were slow to come in." Everything from boxing matches to auctions were hosted to help fund the project. Additionally, in 1875, Chuang says "Bartholdi embarked on a media campaign to build excitement about making the statue a reality, hiring photographers to make and distribute images of the work-in-progress. One of those photographers was Albert Fernique, who recorded 'Liberty Enlightening the World' (Baltholdi’s original title) as it neared completion. The future icon was finally inaugurated in 1886."

What is now preserved in this photography — from France to stateside — is "the remarkable construction of the Statue of Liberty."

View of the workshop, with models of the Statue of Liberty in the background.

View of the workshop, with models of the Statue of Liberty in the background.

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View of the workshop, with models of the Statue of Liberty in the background.
Albert Fernique / NYPL


As part of our month-long Dear NYC series, we're looking at New York City gems hidden away at the New York Public Library. The NYPL’s four research centers offer the public access to over 55 million items, including rare books, manuscripts, letters, diaries, photographs, prints, maps, ephemera, and more. Integral to these robust collections is the Library’s extensive material related to New York City, and as NY works to come together, cope, heal and recover from the 2020 pandemic, economic uncertainty, and the many issues that divide us, it is important to look at that history and remember: New York is resilient. New York is strong. New York has seen its share of hard times. And, as always, with Patience and Fortitude (the names given to the Library’s beloved lionsin 1933 by Mayor LaGuardia for the virtues New Yorkers needed to get through the Great Depression) we will get through it, together.