Weird History

All of the Symbols on the Statue of Liberty, Explained 

Kellen Perry
Updated July 8, 2020 79.7k views 15 items

Like a lot of American monuments in this post-National Treasure world, the Statue of Liberty gets a lot of attention as a possible Freemason “code” full of crazy symbols and hidden meanings. The truth is not that exciting. But it’s still exciting! Statue of Liberty symbols are a real thing, but they’re mostly of the art class variety. The Statue of Liberty torch, for example, is meant to symbolize “Liberty Enlightening the World” (the statue’s actual name, by the way). The Statue of Liberty tablet has a little “goof” in it for typography geeks.

So there might not be any Statue of Liberty codes to speak of, but the history of its construction and the thoughtfulness of its design are pretty fascinating to think about. For example, did you know that Freemasons built the thing? Read on for a Statue of Liberty history lesson and a comprehensive list of all of the symbols “hidden” on Lady Liberty.

The Torch: A Light That Shows the Path to Liberty
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Photo:  MonicaVolpin/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

As the statue’s official name “Liberty Enlightening the World” implies, the torch is a symbol of liberty and enlightenment. Observing that torches could also be used for destruction, one of the original “idea guys” behind the statue, Édouard René de Laboulaye, clarified that Lady Liberty’s torch is “not the torch that sets afire, but the flambeau, the candle-flame that enlightens.

The National Park Service describes it as lighting “the way to freedom, showing us the path to Liberty.”

Crown: A Way to Show She Is Divine
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Photo:  National Park Service/WikiMedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Some depictions of Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty that partially inspired the Statue of Liberty, show her sporting what’s called a Phrygian cap, which symbolizes freedom (it also makes you look a lot like a Smurf).

Sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi chose instead “a spiked diadem or aureole, like that seen in classical images of Helios, the Greek sun god.” The official librarian of the Statue of Liberty National Monument say it’s “a halo or what in art is called a nimbus, showing she is divine."

Robe: A Symbol of Liberty
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Photo:  Unsplash/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

The Statue of Liberty wears a stola and pella (gown and cloak), which are common in depictions of Roman goddesses such as Libertas, the goddess of—you guessed it!—liberty. Lady Liberty is actually fairly conservative in her apparel, considering the nude or topless depictions of Libertas in other artwork that predate her. Why the cover-up? Édouard René de Laboulaye, who originally proposed the statue, was a devout Catholic, and insisted that sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi cover her “with a robe from head to toe.”

Spikes: The Seven Continents (But Up for Debate)
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Photo:  Ronile/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

What the spikes (or rays) that emanate from Lady Liberty’s crown symbolize, exactly, is a topic of some debate. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History simply says the “seven rays on her crown represent the seven continents of the Earth.” Frommers says that the rays “represent the seven seas of the world.”