How 1885 Crowdsourcing Saved the Statue of Liberty
New York City had a big problem. France had gifted the United States with the Statue of Liberty to erect on an island in New York Harbor. It was a gracious gift and would be a wonderful landmark to welcome people coming into the United States through New York City. The majestic depiction of Lady Liberty would be one of the first images of America that incoming immigrants would see and they would be treated to a visual representation of the liberty they were seeking in America. The trouble was, New York City had run out of money and couldn’t finish building the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty would stand. That is until newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer had a crazy plan…ask for donations from the huddled masses.
The Statue of Liberty was a Gift
France presented with the United States with the giant statue, created by French sculpture Auguste Bartholdi, in 1881. But the statue came with some assembly required. The piece sat in wooden shipping crates in a storage warehouse in New York while plans were drawn up and construction started on an enormous pedestal on Liberty Island, on which the Statue of Liberty would stand.
Funds Dried Up
By 1884, money for the construction of the $250,000 pedestal had run out and the work ground to a halt. The city hopes that a wealthy businessman would come forward to pay for the rest of the construction, but that hope was running low after a few years.
Other Cities Offered to Take the Statue of Liberty
When it became clear that New York City couldn’t afford to build the statue’s pedestal, other cities, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Boston, offered to take the Statue of Liberty off New York’s hands. They could, they claim, easily pay for the construction of a mounting pedestal in their cities. It was rude, they contended, to leave France’s gift sitting in a box for years. Many people felt that the best move would be to relocate the Statue of Liberty to another city.
Newspaper Publisher Joseph Pulitzer was Outraged by This
Himself an immigrant who passed through Ellis Island in New York City, Joseph Pulitzer had built a newspaper empire in the United States. As the publisher of the New York World, he was probably in a position to offer a large financial contribution, but he had a different perspective on the situation. He explained this in an open letter to the people of New York that he published in the New York World on March 16, 1885.
Pulitzer Proposed Crowdsourcing
Although the term “crowdsourcing” hadn’t been coined yet, the concept behind it made sense to Pulitzer. In his open letter, he stated that it was the responsibility of every citizen of the city to contribute what they could to the effort, noting “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.”
Pulitzer Raised More Than Enough Money in Just Five Months
Donations started pouring in. Most of the donations were less than one dollar, but the people of New York were showing that they were committed to keeping the Statue of Liberty in their city. Pulitzer kept running his plea in his newspaper. In addition, he ran lists of donations that had come in hoping that others would be encouraged by the generosity of their friends and neighbors. It didn’t matter how large or how small the contribution was, Pulitzer included it in the New York World. For example, little Leonard Bender of Jersey City donated ten cents and Jonathan Scoville, the mayor of Buffalo, donated his entire annual salary of $230.
Crowdsourcing Proved to be Successful
More than 160,000 people donated to the fund. Even though roughly 90% of the donations were one dollar or less, the money added up quickly. By August 11, 1885, the city had more than enough money to complete the pedestal. The Statue of Liberty was officially unveiled and dedicated on October 28, 1886.
Pultizer Considered His Role in the Statue of Liberty to be His Proudest Accomplishment
Joseph Pulitzer proved himself to be one of the best businessmen of his day. Not only did he build an empire and change the face of journalism, but he established a coveted award that bears his name, The Pulitzer Prize, that is awarded annually for excellence in journalism, literature, and poetry. Despite these great accomplishments, Pulitzer always felt that his role in securing funding to keep the Statue of Liberty in New York City was his proudest accomplishments.
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