It’s 1986 and you’ve got a 31 tons of copper, in the form of a giant 46 meter tall statue, that’s looking a bit worse for wear.
The Statue of Liberty has had water pooling in some areas, causing areas of her copper skin to corrode, and in some cases wearing all the way through.
On the other side of the iron curtain (it’s still up after all) there are probably quite a number of folks experienced in looking after giant statues, but alas, you’re the US National Parks Service and seeking help from the Soviets is probably a bad look.
The statue is made of Copper, and who knows more about copper than the phone company, with a vast, vast network of copper lines spanning the country?
So the National Parks Service called upon Bell Labs to help.
The Bell Labs’ chemists assigned to the project quickly pointed out that just replacing the corroded copper with new copper would hardly blend in – You’d have the shiny brown copper colour in the new sections, which wouldn’t match the verdigris that occurs through the oxidation of the copper, which would take years to form. (When she was delivered, the statue had a copper colour like you’d see in Copper piping, not the green patina we see today.)
Bell Labs staff looked at artificially creating the patina with acid solutions, to speed up the process to match the new copper with the old, but it was found it may cause structural weak points.
John Franey who was a technical assistant working at Bell Labs’ Murray Hill laboratories must have looked up at the roof of their buildings, constructed in 1941, and thought “Well that looks pretty close…”, so the naturally patinaed roof of Bell Lab’s New Jersey campus was peeled up and sent off for patching the statue.
Murray Hill got a shiny new copper roof to replace the old green one they’d just given up, and the particles of copper corrosion scraped off the dismantled roof of a Bell Labs were mixed with acetone into a special spray used as concealer on the statue’s skin.
In exchange, Bell Labs staff were given some of the copper plates removed from the statue, so they could study the natural corrosion process in copper, in various weather conditions, which in turn would lead to a better understanding of how to build and maintain their copper plant.
The Idea Factory – Book by Jon Gertner