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January 16, 2021

Colossal Hand and Torch of the Statue of Liberty, on Display at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia

Originally designed as a lighthouse that would have stood at the mouth of the Suez Canal in Egypt, the Statue of Liberty took a meandering path to its ultimate destination in New York Harbor. After the Egyptian project collapsed, sculptor Frederic Bartholdi repurposed the idea for a U.S. market.

Financing the 22-story colossus through donations, he displayed the torch at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition – a celebration of the United State’s 100th Birthday in 1876. For 50 cents, attendees ascended a ladder to the balcony encircling the copper torch. The money earned through that and souvenir sales allowed him to finish the 225-ton statue.

(Library of Congress)

In the late 1860s, Bartholdi approached Isma’il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, with a plan to build Progress or Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia, a huge lighthouse in the form of an ancient Egyptian female fellah or peasant, robed and holding a torch aloft, at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal in Port Said.

Sketches and models were made of the proposed work, though it was never erected. There was a classical precedent for the Suez proposal, the Colossus of Rhodes: an ancient bronze statue of the Greek god of the sun, Helios. This statue is believed to have been over 100 feet (30 m) high, and it similarly stood at a harbor entrance and carried a light to guide ships. Both the khedive and Lesseps declined the proposed statue from Bartholdi, citing the expensive cost. The Port Said Lighthouse was built instead, by Fran├žois Coignet in 1869.


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