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Old Copper Roof Gives Statue of Liberty a New Dress

October 11, 1985

MURRAY HILL, N.J. (AP) _ John Franey, a corrosion expert with AT&T’s Bell Laboratories assigned to the task force renovating the Statue of Liberty, had been puzzled for months over how to find enough material to mend the dress of the world’s largest woman.

He found it right where he had been working for the past 15 years.

Franey, whose employer is donating his time to the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation Inc. for the $260 million facelift, is charged with patching the outer skin of the 99-year-old statue.

But unless he found the right kind of aged copper, and enough of it, the lady’s gown would look like a metal quilt at her unveiling next July 4.

One day last fall, Franey drove his van through the Bell Labs gate and was heading toward his office when suddenly he saw the answer - on the roof of the complex’s auditorium.

″It just hit me,″ Franey recalled in a recent interview. ″I looked up and there it was - copper.″

For several days Franey had noticed a work crew preparing to remove the auditorium’s old copper roof so they could replace rotted sheathing underneath. But he made no connection to the Statue of Liberty, which needed 400 to 500 square feet of patches to repair corrosion ranging from a watermelon-size hole on the bottom of the statue’s nose to dozens smaller than a dime.

The original statue was virtually watertight, but modifications of its torch allowed water to leak in and begin eating at the copper skin from the inside.

The color of new copper, however, would contrast harshly with the statue’s century-old copper, which long ago acquired the characteristic green patina of copper exposed to the atmosphere.

Franey and his colleagues had been thinking about artificially producing the patina, which protects copper from further corrosion, but the process was too new, and too risky.

″No one knows what happens to it after 20 or 25 years,″ Franey said. ″What if everything peeled off after 40 years? We didn’t want to take that chance with a national monument.″

″That was on my mind″ as he drove to work that bright October morning, he recalled. ″How were we going to do it?

″Then I looked up and saw that roof and said, ’Geez, it would be nice to use some copper with a natural patina.‴

When Franey got a closer look, he found the copper from the 40-year-old roof was the same quality and grade as the statue’s.

″The match is just beautiful,″ he said. ″You can hardly detect the difference, even in a close-up view, let alone from far away.″

If new copper had been used for the patches, ″they would have been shiny, like a new penny,″ and any patch larger than 4 square inches would have been visible, he said.

Franey also was relieved to find that there was plenty of roof to be had: 1,200 square feet in 2- by 4-foot sheets.

The roof was being covered with new copper, so the old one was to be scrapped. Instead it was delivered to Liberty Island, a gift from Bell Labs.

The copper patching will be riveted in place with a backing plate, a process that Franey said will not disturb the patina.

How many different patches are needed?

″More than 100 and less than 1,000. That’s how much I know,″ Franey said with a shrug. ″Nobody’s ever done this before.″