The First American Crowdfunding Campaign
According to a BBC News Magazine post dated 4/24/2013 America’s first major crowdfunding project was the funding campaign for the base of the Statute of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty was shipped from France, and by the summer of 1885 the Statue of Liberty was in New York in pieces, awaiting assembly, efforts to raise funds for its pedestal stalled. There was a lot of uncertainty and no real solutions to this major civic issue in New York.
It was the job of a group called The American Committee of the Statue of Liberty to raise the funds, but the funds raised fell short by more than a third. New York Governor Grover Cleveland rejected the use of city funds to pay for it, and Congress could not agree on a funding package.
There were offers from the cities of Baltimore, Boston, San Francisco and Philadelphia to pay for the pedestal, but of course in return for the statue’s relocation. It seemed as though all was lost and New York had run out of options when renowned publisher Joseph Pulitzer decided to launch a fundraising campaign in his newspaper The New York World.
The campaign raised money from more than 160,000 donors, including young children, businessmen, street cleaners and politicians, with more than three-quarters of the donations amounting to less than a dollar. It was a remarkable feat, in just five months $101,091 – was raised enough to cover the last $100,000 to complete the pedestal and have money leftover for a gift for the sculptor.
It used a single collection point – the newspaper – to raise money from a very large pool of donors each pledging as little as pocket change.
For The World, the Statue of Liberty success prompted a series of high-profile campaigns. The newspaper raised funds for a memorial to Civil War general and later president Ulysses Grant and waged a long campaign for tax reform. But Pulitzer’s great crowdfunding effort remained one of his proudest achievements – and one still on display today. Thanks to a newspaper campaign and the small donations of hundreds of residents, the base was eventually built.