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The hand and torch of the Statue of Liberty on display at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, in Philadelphia, ten years before the rest of the statue was completed.
The hand and torch of the Statue of Liberty on display at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, in Philadelphia, ten years before the rest of the statue was completed.MPI—Getty Images
The hand and torch of the Statue of Liberty on display at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, in Philadelphia, ten years before the rest of the statue was completed.
The head of the Statue of Liberty on display in the garden at the Champ de Mars at the World's Fair in Paris to drum up support and contributions for the completion of the great project, 1878.
View of portions of the Statue of Liberty during its construction in the workshop of French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Paris, France, circa 1880. Bartholdi stands at left.
Segments of the Statue of Liberty during its construction in the workshop of French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Paris, France, circa 1880.
circa 1883: The construction of the Statue of Liberty in Paris, before its journey to the United States.
View of the Statue of Liberty enclosed by scaffolding, while under construction, seen from the Rue de Chazelles, Paris, France, circa 1884.
circa 1884: The left hand of the Statue of Liberty under construction. Sixty men have worked for almost ten years on the various parts of the statue, not including its designer Frederic Bartholdi and his assistants.
circa 1885: The framework for the right arm of the Statue Of Liberty during construction in Paris. Designed by the French sculptor Frederick Bartholdi.
The feet of the Statue of Liberty arrive on Liberty Island 1885. The statue was a gift from the people of France to the United States, It represents Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom.
The Statue Of Liberty & Liberty Island 1898
The hand and torch of the Statue of Liberty on display at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, in Philadelphia, ten years bef
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MPI—Getty Images
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See Early Photos of the Statue of Liberty Before It Came to New York

Jun 17, 2015

According to legend, the Statue of Liberty came to sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi as a vision: sailing into New York Harbor in 1870, the French artist suddenly imaged the persona of liberty welcoming him. He sketched out his idea and immediately began pitching it to influential New Yorkers and his powerful countrymen. Though the New Yorkers saw him as a dreamer, the French saw him as someone with a perfect idea for a 100th birthday present for the United States.

When 1876 rolled around, however, Lady Liberty still a work in progress. Bartholdi sent her hand and torch to be displayed at the Philadelphia Exposition, while he and Gustave Eiffel (as in the Eiffel Tower) worked on engineering the rest of her. He finished the job in 1884 and displayed it in Paris while the U.S. readied the pedestal. Then, as TIME recounted in 1936, it was time to bring the statue across the Atlantic:

Carefully taken apart, the Goddess of Liberty was packed in 214 enormous crates, consigned to the steam-and-sail gunboat Isère for shipment to the U. S. In charge of the shipment was a 19-year-old French lieutenant, Rodolphe Victor de Drambour. No hatches on the little ship were big enough for the enormous crates. He cut open the side of the ship, pushed the dissected goddess straight into the hold. Throughout a 72-hour storm with canvas cut to staysail & spanker, Lieutenant de Drambour stayed on the bridge of his ship, while the crates shifted wildly, threatened any instant to sink him. Two days after his 20th birthday he dropped anchor off Sandy Hook, welcomed by the New York World, the New York Yacht Club, the U. S. Fleet, and a spanking good dinner at the Hoffman House.

It was 130 years ago today, on June 17, 1885, that the ship and its precious cargo reached New York—and another year before reassembly was complete and the finished product could be unveiled.

Read coverage from 1986 of the effort to refurbish the statute, here in the TIME Vault: A Pair of American Islands

Statue of Liberty, 1951.
Statue of Liberty, 1951.Margaret Bourke-White—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Statue of Liberty, 1951.
Statue of Liberty, 1946.
Statue of Liberty, 1950.
Statue of Liberty, 1956.
Statue of Liberty, 1951.
Statue of Liberty, 1959.
Harry Belafonte speaks at a civil rights rally at the Statue of Liberty, 1960.
Korea's Children's Choir visits the Statue of Liberty, 1954.
Statue of Liberty, 1931.
Statue of Liberty, 1961.
Statue of Liberty, 1939.
Statue of Liberty, unknown date.
Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor, 1939.
Statue of Liberty, 1942.
Statue of Liberty, 1951.
Margaret Bourke-White—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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Read next: 9 Little Known Places to Visit in New York City (That Aren’t Tourist Traps)

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