Frederic Bartholdi was an architect and sculptor.

In 1855 he visited Egypt and fell in love with the massive ancient sculptures he saw there.

He described them as “Granite beings of imperturbable majesty”.

He wanted to build a modern version of The Colossus of Rhodes.

A hundred and sixty feet high, it was built around 300 BC, a statue of Apollo at the entrance to Rhodes Harbour.

Holding a lit torch like a lighthouse showing sailors the way.

Bartholdi wanted to build a similar giant statue at the entrance to the Suez Canal, which opened in 1869.

He wanted his statue to face east, to symbolise that half of the world was now open to the west by the canal.

It would be a Muslim woman in traditional robes holding a torch aloft, she would be called ‘Egypt’.

So Bartholdi drew up blueprints for his monument.

He presented his plans to the ruler of Egypt: Ishma’il Pasha.

But he turned them down and Bartholdi’s dream was crushed.

Until a friend, Eduard de Laboulaye, suggested an alternative.

A new country could be a possible venue for the sculpture.

They didn’t have a canal but they were about to celebrate their centenary: being 100 years old.

The French had fought alongside this country in its struggle for independence.

Suppose they changed the statue from a Muslim woman and made it more like the classic French figure signifying freedom.

It could represent France helping this new country to achieve its 100 years of independence.

Bartholdi was willing to do anything to get his monument built.

He sailed to the new country, but could only find one site available: a small deserted island called Bedloe’s Island.

But the government wouldn’t pay to build his monument, so Bartholdi decided to get the citizens of France to pay for it.

Bit-by-bit he built it, and bit-by-bit he exhibited it.

He charged people to visit the massive hand, then he charged them to visit the massive head.

He even managed to enrol a newspaper tycoon in getting his readers to donate a dollar each towards building the base for the statue.

And eventually, after desperate years of fundraising, he shipped it across to its new home and assembled it.

On a tiny island six thousand miles from where he originally planned.

It was a different figure from the one he originally planned, it wasn’t Muslim.

It had a different name, not ‘Egypt’.

But at least he got his huge, timeless monument built.

What Bartholdi couldn’t know, was that the country he’d donated it to was about to become the most powerful country in the world.

And his statue would become much more famous than his original statue would ever have been.

Today we know Bartholdi’s monument as The Statue of Liberty.

It’s visited by 3 million people a year and it’s become the symbol for America.

What we can learn from Bartholdi is to do whatever it takes to make our vision happen.

It may not be perfect, but make it happen anyway.

If it actually exists so does the possibility that something else could happen, something we didn’t imagine.


An imperfect reality is better than a perfect fantasy.