What's Written at the Bottom of the Statue of Liberty?

Liberty Credit: Ronile/Pixabay

The Statue of Liberty National Monument has served as an important symbol for the United States. An inscription on a bronze plaque sits at the bottom of the monument. Today, the inscription is a topic of discussion as it comes up often when people talk about immigration. What does the inscription say? What does it mean?

The History of the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was a gift to the U.S. as a gift from France. Initially, it was meant to symbolize lasting friendship between the two nations. The idea came in 1865 with the end of the Civil War.

French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi designed Lady Liberty. He had already built several large statues out of copper sheets. He received the help of Alexandre-Gustav Eiffel, who would go on to build the Eiffel Tower. They wanted to complete it by 1876. That would mark the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. However, it was not finished until 1885 because of funding issues.

After the Statue of Liberty was finished, the statue was taken apart and sent to New York City in crates. When it was restored, the statue stood about 305 feet tall. On October 28, 1886, Lady Liberty took her place on Liberty Island in New York Harbor.

The National Park Service has maintained the statue since 1933. It is open for public tours every day of the year except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Ferries begin taking visitors in the morning, and the last ferry generally leaves Liberty Island at 5 p.m. Eastern time.

What Does the Inscription Say?

The inscription at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty says, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore." You will find a plaque with the same words at the Statue of Liberty Museum.

The French designers did not include the plaque. They left the base off with the idea of making the piece a collaboration. The Americans would create the base on which the statue would stand.

Where the Inscription Comes From

The inscription at the bottom of the statue comes from a sonnet. The poem is called The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus. It was written in 1883. The plaque with the inscription was added in the early 1900s. 

Lazarus' inscription had been chosen as part of a contest. Soon, the statue took on a new meaning: a welcome to immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. Millions of immigrants would see the statue bearing the inscription.

What Does the Inscription Mean?

The inscription by Lazarus talks about immigrants, people moving to the U.S. from another country. The poem refers to people in need looking for freedom. They were people who were looking for a better life. The poem tells the story of America's history.

The Statue of Liberty Today

The poem below the Statue of Liberty is still relevant today. The statue is still a symbol of American freedom. Visitors can explore the statue itself. They can also visit the Statue of Liberty Exhibit to view photos and stories of real immigrants who were welcomed by the inscription and Lady Liberty herself.