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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 François Coignet in 1869.




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