My first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty as a kid was one of dismay–and perhaps a little disappointment–at its color. I was familiar with the shape of the statue, of course, but nobody ever mentioned that it was a bilious shade of green due to the oxidation of the metal. When I was doing research for Duke of a Gilded Age, set in 1890, I had a difficult time discovering what the statue looked like back then. Color photography had not yet been invented, so I tried to rely on eyewitness descriptions gleaned from newspapers or magazines. To my surprise, there weren’t any, or at least none to my satisfaction. I read a few statements in more recent publications concluding the statue was always green, and that the verdigris patina was acquired when the copper sheeting came over from Europe. I disagree. The accounts I read about the dedication of the statue back in October of 1886 discuss many statistics and observations, but none discuss the color, other than mentioning the metals bronze and copper. If the metals had been green, I believe someone would have said so. After all, an enormous green lady standing at the mouth of the North River is big news.
I scoured the Library of Congress Historic Newspaper archives about this issue, and discovered several articles dating from 1904 to 1906 that mention an upcoming restoration project for the statue:
In both of these articles, mention is made of the toll the elements had taken over the years on the appearance of the statue.
In 1906, an article was published in the Lincoln County Leader which discusses a tour of Europe, beginning with passage on a steamer out of New York. The writer says, “The steamer passes beneath Bartholdi’s statue of Liberty, the copper bronze of which shines brightly in the sunlight…” (emphasis mine) So as recently as 1906, then, some of Miss Liberty’s original sheen was still visible.
Perhaps the most significant evidence of her original color, however, is Edward Moran’s painting entitled Statue of Liberty unveiled, dated 1886. The painting was done to commemorate Miss Liberty’s dedication… and there’s not a trace of green on it. Be she bronze or green, the Statue of Liberty is still a symbol of freedom, and on this 4th of July, I will take the time to appreciate her.
~ S.G. Rogers