Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty
Despite inexorable problems of aging, the Statue of Liberty's generally sound condition by the 1980s was a testament to the genius of her creators, sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and engineer Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. However, a century of corrosion, weathering, pollution, and almost two million sightseers a year had taken their toll, and a major restoration became essential. The massive 1986 restoration was undertaken by a team of architects, historians, engineers, and laborers who toiled for two and half years to shore up the statue.

Inside the Statue, American craftsmen turned their attention to the 1,800 iron armature bars that formed the vast interior strapwork that supports the Statue's copper skin. The armature was part of Eiffel's innovative structural design, which allows the skin to expand or contract with changes in temperature or with shifts in the wind. Through galvanic or electrolytic corrosion, some iron bars had eroded to as little as a third of their original thickness. Workers had to replace 10,000 linear feet of armature weighing a total of 35,000 pounds, along with 30,000 copper rivets. The job took 18 workers 12 months to complete, since maintaining the structural integrity of the Statue meant that they could only remove and copy a maximum of 12 bars in any given 24-hour period.

Statue of Liberty

Using the original armatures as templates, workers fashioned exact duplicates from non-corrosive stainless steel with a forming press, hammers, and acetylene torches. They heated the shaped bars to 1,950°F for five minutes, then cooled them by water quenching to reduce brittleness. Finally, they inserted teflon insulating strips to prevent the iron from touching the statue's copper skin. All together, workers replaced all but ten armature bars in the right foot, which remain in place as examples of the original puddled iron structure.

Principal source: Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Foundation

Photos: (1) Photodisc/McDaniel Woolf; (2) Corbis/Robert Maas.

Support provided by

For new content
visit the redesigned
NOVA site