June 17, 2015 7:00 AM EDT

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:

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

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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