Today, we have various online platforms for crowdfunding. These platforms are mostly about individual or commercial projects, not for public projects.
In a recent trip to NYC, it was fascinating to hear that the Statue of Liberty was crowd funded in two nations – France and the USA. So far, I had believed that the statue was a gift from France to the United States. However, it seemed to be a joint effort. The majority of the funding and technical expertise came from France, but America was also on the hook for funding. I have not done any research to determine if this is the first instance of crowdfunding for a public cause.
It was agreed that the American people were to build the pedestal, and the French people were responsible for the Statue and its assembly here in the United States.
However, lack of funds was a problem on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In France, public fees, various forms of entertainment, and a lottery were among the methods used to raise funds. In the United States, benefit theatrical events, art exhibitions, auctions and prizefights assisted in providing needed funds. Poet Emma Lazarus wrote her famous sonnet “The New Colossus” in 1883 for the art and literary auction to raise funds for the Statue’s pedestal.
Meanwhile in France, Bartholdi required the assistance of an engineer to address structural issues associated with designing such a colossal copper sculpture. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (designer of the Eiffel Tower) was commissioned to design the massive iron pylon and secondary skeletal framework which allows the Statue’s copper skin to move independently yet stand upright.
Back in America, fundraising for the pedestal was going particularly slowly, so Joseph Pulitzer opened up the editorial pages of his newspaper, “The World,” to support the fundraising effort. Pulitzer used his newspaper to criticize both the rich who had failed to finance the pedestal construction and the middle class who were content to rely upon the wealthy to provide the funds. Pulitzer’s campaign of harsh criticism was successful in motivating the people of America to donate.
Architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the Statue of Liberty’s granite pedestal in 1884, donating his fee to help fund the Statue. Financing for the pedestal was completed in August 1885, and pedestal construction was finished in April 1886.
Of course, there were plenty of challenges with the crowd funding. It is believed that Bartholdi (the French designer) fomented rivalry between various cities of New York, Boston and Philadelphia. New Yorkers, fearful that they would lose the statue jumped into action. Ultimately, it was Pulitzer’s drive and his promise to print every donor’s name in his newspaper that did the trick to successfully raise a total of $250,000 for the pedestal. Fear of missing out (FOMO) works well even now in startup deals and successful CEOs take advantage of that. The copper and steel statue itself was estimated to cost $400,000 from the French side.
In the end they did it, despite lack of sophisticated tools we take granted in today’s online world.