Copper in the Arts

February 2008

Solving the Statue of Liberty Copper Mystery

By Donna Dvorak

Statue of Liberty Marino estimates the Statue of Liberty contains 100 tons of copper

Photograph by Tim Alderson

The Statue of Liberty, that grand old lady who stands tall on Liberty Island, between New York and New Jersey, greeting everyone who arrives by boat, airplane or car, holds quite a mystery. Yes, she's beautiful with her head and hands held high, with copper skin that gleams in the sunlight. And, she even holds up during fierce winter snow and ice storms, or blistering summer heat and humidity, let alone rainstorms and high winds. And, that magnificent torch that she holds in her hands lights up her beauty, but if we dig deep it's said that she holds a secret.

Like most women, it deals with her weight. (Her copper weight to be exact!) There have been a plethora of numbers thrown around throughout the years about her copper weight, and they run the gamut. So, what's the real story about her true weight? And, why can't anyone figure it out? Of course, if she were real she'd be happy to tell us, if, unlike most women, she revealed her copper weight, but history has shown that she's extremely adept at hiding the fact.

According to our own Copper Development Association, the copper content of the lady is 179,000 pounds, with copper that came from the Visnes copper mines on Karmoy Island near Stavanger, Norway, and created by French artisans. According to the National Parks Service, our grand dame only has approximately 62,000 pounds of copper. Other documented information has our lady draped in 200,000 pounds of pure copper hung on a framework of steel that was originally puddle iron, except for the magnificent flame, which is coated with gold leaf. Emporis.com, a site that has a wonderful description of her most vital facts, states that "the external skin is sculpted from around three hundred 0.2 centimeter (0.09 thick), hand-hammered copper plates which are fixed to an internal diagonally braced iron frame. The copper skin weighs around 92 tons."

So, who is correct?

For answers, we went to Barry Marino, Librarian of the Ellis Island Library, who was happy to set the record straight.

"About 200,000 pounds, or 100 tons, of copper was used in the construction of the Statue of Liberty," he explains. "Discrepancies exist because this amount was announced in the 1880s from French sources. At that time there were some inaccuracies in providing the exact amount because it was a huge project and, of course, they obtained lots of copper. Naturally, some was used in the final work and some wasn't used until years later when it was restored in the 1980s. American and French engineers had a different estimate. However, the approximately 200,000 pounds is an estimate based on engineering calculations. There's really not an absolutely correct number, because you can't weigh the statue now."

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