The Statue of Liberty is, herself, an immigrant -- making her the perfect symbol for greeting those courageous enough to have sought a better life on our shores. Frenchman Édouard de Laboulaye first proposed the idea of a monument for the United States in 1865; a decade later, sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design the sculpture. Dubbed “Liberty Enlightening the World,” the project became a joint effort between the U.S. and France, and, after a series of logistical, financial, and bureaucratic challenges, she was shipped across the sea in 350 pieces and reassembled on architect Richard Morris Hunt’s granite pedestal to be officially unveiled and dedicated by President Grover Cleveland on October 28, 1886.
Photo credit: Albert Fernique via the New York Public Library
See more construction photos here.
In 1903, a plaque was added, designating the Statue of Liberty to be “The New Colossus”, inspired by Emma Lazarus’ poem of that name composed to raise funding for the pedestal, thereby expanding her significance as an inspiration to immigrants who sailed past on their way into America, generally via Ellis Island, which opened in 1892 as an immigration station. Before it closed in 1954, it saw 12 million immigrants pass through its doors.
"Immigrants (center and right) and Legal Inspectors (left) in the Registry Room for the Legal Inspection." Photo and caption credit: National Park Service
Those who came represent the vast array of mindsets, backgrounds, and talents that still define America.
Among the notable — if not in all cases universally beloved, definitely impactful — makers, movers, and shakers who entered the U.S. via Ellis Island:
Albert Einstein aboard the SS Rotterdam, 1921, docked in New York. Photo property of: Library of Congress
Einstein belongs to world, but he did come through Ellis Island in 1921 when he was 42 years old. He and his wife Elsa road aboard the SS Rotterdam. He returned to Germany briefly, but moved to America permanently in 1933 when Adolf Hitler came into power. Among other accomplishments, he developed the theory of relativity and won the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in the philosophy of science. He proved atoms exist for goodness sake! Is there anything in the science and tech realm that doesn’t bare the trace of Einstein’s genius to this day? Probably not.
Chef Boyardee. Photo from: chefboyardee.com
Ettore Boiardi, or known to the world as Chef Boyardee, was born in Piacenza in northern Italy. When he was 16 he immigrated to the U.S. via Ellis Island, and first worked as a waiter with his brother at the Plaza. Eight years later in 1926, he opened his first restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, auspiciously dubbed “Il Giardino d’Italia.” When customers begged for extras to bring home, a light bulb went off, and one of the first great food entrepreneurs was born. At first, he sold his pasta in milk bottles, but by 1928, he had a full-on factory cranking out his culinarily questionable, but indubitably successful, canned faux-Italian delights. During WWII, he operated the factory 24 hours a day to crank out enough cans for hungry soldiers overseas, employing about 5,000 people and producing 250,000 cans per day in the process. He sold the company to American Home Foods for around $6 million after the war, but not before creating an insatiable appetite for Italian food in the U.S. (for food snobs, his brand was a start).
The Legacy of Mother Cabrini: Story of Immigration mural by artists Yana Dimitrova and Esteban del Valle in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens at 29 Tiffany Place. Photo from: Groundswell
Haven’t heard of Mother Cabrini? You’re not alone. But the impact of this relatively unsung woman is still being felt today. Cabrini, whose full name was Frances Xavier Cabrini, was sent over from Italy to America in 1889 by none other than Pope Leo XIII. The pope tasked her with helping poor Italian immigrants, which she accomplished in spades, establishing 67 public institutions, primarily orphanages, schools, and hospitals, across the U.S. She was declared a saint in 1946, the first United States citizen to be done so.
Pauline Trigere in her studio in NYC, 1962. Photo credit: Ormond Gigli
Born in Paris to Russian Jewish parents in 1908, Pauline Trigere apprenticed to designers when she was 15. Her career flourished, but she and her husband Lazar Radley were forced to flee fascism in 1936. En route to Argentina, she made a stop in New York and ended up staying and building a phenomenal career literally out of a suitcase that she carted across the country via Greyhound, showcasing her wares to luxury retailers. When executives agreed to buy her designs, she got to work. She became the first major designer to employ African American models in 1961, designed Patricia Neal’s costumes for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and dressed Bette Davis, Grace Kelly, Jacki O., Elizabeth Taylor, Wallis Simpson, and Angela Lansbury.
Ayn Rand standing in front of Grand Central, NYC 1962. Photo from: Ayn Rand Org
Beloved by some, derided or denounced by others, the objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand has had an enormous impact on popular and political culture today (Mark Cuban, Alan Greenspan, and Peter Thiel are among those who cite her as an influence). Born Alisa Rosenbaum in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg, Russia to a prosperous Jewish family, she fled to Crimea when the Bolsheviks seized her family’s pharmacy. In 1926, she bought a ticket to New York, changed her name (Aye is Finnish for “Eye” and Rand is taken from the Remington-Rand typewriter she used), went to Hollywood and began writing. One book, Atlas Shrugged (1957) has sold more than 7 million copies alone.
Bob Hope rehearsing for this first starring television role in the television special Star Spangled Revue. Photo property of NBC Television
Is there anyone more American than…Bob Hope? He arrived to Ellis Island at age 4 in 1907 from Bristol, England with his family of nine. They moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and he grew up to be a comedian, vaudevillian, actor, singer, dancer, athlete, humanitarian, and author. He has been called ”the USO’s One Man Morale Machine” for his work entertaining and inspiring military troops for almost fifty years. Before his death in 2003, he received more than 50 honorary degrees, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center in 1985, a Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton and Knighthood in 1998. (Yes, even he was surprised by the Knighthood, joking that for the first time in his life he was actually “speechless.”)
The ultimate irony, perhaps, considering our current deeply divided political climate, is not only that the Statue of Liberty — to which many, on both sides of the aisle, still cling as the symbol of America’s true strength — is a woman, but also that she was actually first modeled on a Muslim woman. Before designing Liberty, Bartholdi had traveled through Egypt, soaking in the visual feast laid out by the Nubian figures at Abu Simbel. That inspired his original plan for Liberty: an 86-foot-tall woman dressed in traditional Arab attire to crown the entrance to the 120-mile Suez Canal, which opened in 1869. He called the work “Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia.” But his design was rejected.
Luckily, in 1886, his proposal — with slight alterations — became Lady Liberty, welcoming makers, shakers and dreamers to our shores, and serving as a symbol of America’s strength in diversity, inclusiveness and courage.