My wife and I recently returned from a weekend vacation in New York City. I’ve visited a couple of times before to attend conferences, so I really enjoyed this opportunity to see the city through the eyes of a tourist. We mapped out a few places we wanted to eat and some attractions we wanted to visit and, of course, Susan had some shopping in mind as well.
One of the attractions we made a point to see was the Statue of Liberty. I’ve always been amazed by large-scale works of art such as this. And pictures just don’t do it justice. You have to see Lady Liberty first-hand to really appreciate her.
Did you know that the statue was a gift from France? It was first conceived of in 1870 by the politician Édouard René de Laboulaye and sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. They hoped that by honoring the United States’ advances in the name of freedom and liberty, the citizens of France would be inspired to move toward democracy themselves. Bartholdi traveled to America to gain support for the idea. President Grant quickly agreed to the gift and Bartholdi returned to France to begin the work.
Bartholdi’s design called for building the statue in sections that would be shipped across the Atlantic and assembled on site. French citizens donated to the project and as sections were completed, they were displayed at fairs and other exhibitions. The statue was completed in 1884 and fully assembled in Paris. It was presented to the U.S. Ambassador and the French government agreed to pay for its trip to New York.
But the Statue of Liberty almost never made it to America.
Under the original proposal, The United States would finance the design and building of a pedestal for the statue to stand upon. The American government, however, proved reluctant to donate to the effort. The Governor of New York, Grover Cleveland, vetoed a bill to provide half the cost. Democratic representatives stalled a congressional bill to fund the full project. The pedestal, initially designed to be 114 feet tall, was reduced to 89 feet in order to reduce the cost.
Still, the statue sat in Paris for almost a year before sufficient funds were collected to complete the pedestal. It took a grass-roots campaign by newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer (does that name ring a bell?) to generate enough interest to move the project forward. Eventually, sufficient work had been completed for the statue to be moved to New York. It was finally unveiled in place on October 28, 1886. Now President Grover Cleveland presided over the city’s first ticker-tape parade as part of the festivities and the Statue of Liberty began welcoming immigrants seeking a new beginning in America.
I find it interesting that people, and organizations, so often fight against clearly beneficial opportunities. The Statue of Liberty would obviously serve as a symbol of America’s success to the rest of the world, and yet Congress refused to allocate the necessary resources. It would bring recognition and tourism revenue to the City of New York, but the funding bill was rejected. And keep in mind – the statue was a gift! All we had to pay for was a display stand. I wonder what the French thought of us at that point.
As is the story of America, the people stepped up. The pedestal was paid for by 120,000 individual donations from ordinary people. Pulitzer published the names of every single donor, and 80% of the donations were of less than $1 each. The team pulled together and accomplished what seemingly couldn’t be done.
What opportunities are you missing out on right now? What great work is being held up by infighting, someone’s desire to maintain the status quo, or fear of failure? What if your team actually pulled together? What could the sum of their many individual efforts, focused on a common cause, accomplish? Something amazing, I bet.