Here's Why The Statue of Liberty Is Green

Red, white, and... green?

Yes, the rumors you've heard are true—Lady Liberty, that jolly green giant standing for all things American, was not always so bright and colorful. In fact, coated in slightly less than one-tenth of an inch of copper (about the thickness of two pennies), the monument to all things hopeful was originally a dull brownish-red when it was unveiled in 1886.

So, what happened in the intervening years?

Well, according to Barry Moreno, a historian at the National Parks Service and author of the Encyclopedia of Ellis Island, when copper—the substance forming the outer coating of Lady Liberty—interacts with the atmosphere, it turns green due to oxidation. When it does so, it forms an outer layer, or patina, which gives it that distinctive verdigris hue. And despite some further rumors (probably spread by Boston or L.A.) that New York City's pollution played a part in turning the statue the color it is today, Moreno says, the change was not due to "any other cause."

Eventually spreading to cover the entire monument by around 1920, the patina serves more than just an aesthetic purpose. In fact, Moreno says, it "tends to hinder or limit corrosion once [it's] formed and thus serves as a protectant." And it's an effective one, too: when the statue was restored between the years of 1984 and 1986, the uneven thickness of the patina meant that while some spots which lacked a thicker coating of green "were so badly rusted they had to be replaced," others had remained insulated from the elements and well-preserved for over a hundred years.

Don't be fooled, however, into thinking that just because Lady Liberty wasn't originally green that it's current state is somehow a mistake, even if a fortuitous one. Given the regularity with which its designers—the French engineers Eugene Viollet-Le-Duc and Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel)—dealt with copper, Moreno says, it's safe to say they were "fully aware" of the changes that the coming years would bring to their creation. As to whether they also understood the impact that their creation would have on the national psyche—no matter what color it presented itself as—is a totally different matter. And for more great knowledge you can astonish your friends with, check out the 50 Mind-Blowing Facts We Be You Didn't Know.

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