Crowdfunding: An American Tradition

In America, we’ve always subscribed to the notion, “United, we stand; divided, we fall.” Well, it turns out that this saying applies just as much to economic projects as it does to politics.

Don’t believe us? We’ll let you in on something that most Americans are unaware of: the Statue Of Liberty, one of America’s most defining and iconic monuments, was finished through the power of crowdfunding. Even in the late nineteenth century, people realized the power and potential of collective financing.

Let’s take a closer look at the statue’s fascinating–and crowdfunded–journey to completion.

Crowdfunding…In The 19th Century

The Statue of Liberty was crowdfunded through all stages of its development, and wouldn’t be here today if not for the power of collective financing. In the mid 1870s the French senator behind the original idea for the statue, Edouard Laboulaye, began his journey to fund the monument commemorating America’s victory in the Revolutionary War, and France’s assistance in the revolution and status as a lasting ally.

To pull together the capital and resources he required to see his ambitious vision completed, he turned to many different sources: the government, schools and colleges, the owners of copper mines, and even the descendants of French soldiers who fought in the Revolution. By 1880, Laboulaye had managed to crowdfund more than 250,000 francs (more than $5.5 million today).

America, however, was having a tougher time securing funding across the pond. We had struck a deal with the French: if they would finance the statue itself, America would be responsible for securing land and location rights for the monument, as well as paying for the large pedestal on which the statue would rest. In 1876 (the Revolution’s centennial), the French even sent over Lady Liberty’s outstretched copper arm and flaming torch to boost public interest and

sentiment in the project. But despite fundraising efforts across the country in the form of boxing matches, plays and other public events, the American Committee for the Statue of Liberty completely ran out of money by 1884.

Things were looking bleak, and many involved in the project doubted whether the statue would ever be raised as planned. And their doubts would probably have been well-founded…if one man hadn’t chosen to step in and gallantly rescue Lady Liberty at the eleventh hour.

Joseph Pulitzer Saves The Day (And The Statue of Liberty)

On March 16th, 1885, Joseph Pulitzer (owner of The New York World, one of America’s leading papers at the time) sent out an urgent plea to the people of the United States. “The World is the people’s paper, and now it appeals to the people to come forward to raise the money…Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.”

Pulitzer’s appeal worked wonders. By August 1885 (a mere 5 months from his initial rallying cry) the New York World had raised over $100,000 (more than $2.5 million in today’s dollars).

And what was the most powerful and inspiring part of it all? The majority of this mountain of capital was raised from contributions of $1 or less. Think about that for a moment…really let it sink in.

If Joseph Pulitzer could pull together over $2.5 million in today’s terms with nothing at his disposal accept print media and the goodwill and patriotism of America, how much more can we achieve today through the internet, instant capital transfers, and huge groups of like-minded investors? The possibilities are quite literally endless.

Conclusion: Carrying On An American Tradition

“United, we stand; divided, we fall.” In the context of the American Revolution, these words would have carried an air of deadly seriousness. The lives and liberty of thousands of American revolutionaries were at stake, after all.

But Joseph Pulitzer was essentially saying the same exact thing in 1865 when he made his impassioned appeal to save the Statue of Liberty. And it’s this very same philosophy of the power of unity that fuels BuildingBits. We will always be able to accomplish more together than apart, whether the goal is the successful birth of a new nation, or a successful commercial real estate portfolio.