What’s old is new.
Crowdfunding, micro-donations, content marketing, the sharing economy – these are some of the hottest buzzwords in the technology industry right now, but they’re just modern re-workings of old ideas.
In my lectures on content marketing, for example, I always use The Furrow as a case study. Non-farmers are unlikely to have heard of The Furrow. It’s an agricultural journal that John Deere has been publishing since 1895 to help farmers become better at their craft, and subsequently more profitable. The Furrow doesn’t just push John Deere products; it offers advice from experts. Might seem like a strange way to sell, but who do you think the farmers have been going to since 1895 for their products? Loyalty through trust. Content marketing is a perfect example of an old idea that has only recently become massively popular.
It didn’t occur to me until last night that crowdfunding isn’t a new idea either. In fact, the Statue of Liberty might still be sitting in boxes, unpacked, if it weren’t for a crowdfunding campaign led by one man.
Beginning in 1880, as a token of admiration for the American way of life, the French people funded a grand monument that would later come to be known as the Statue of Liberty. The Statue was built piece by piece in the workshops of Gaget, Gauthier & Cie in Paris. By 1885 it was making its way across the Atlantic. The gift from the people of France to the people of the United States was only missing one thing: a pedestal for her to stand on.
Funding for the $250,000 project – around $6.3 million today – fell short by over $100,000. Grover Cleveland, Governor of New York and future President, refused to allocate funds for the base. None of New York’s wealthy business owners stepped up. The Statue sat in pieces, unassembled, on Liberty Island, known at the time as Bedloe’s Island. Other cities, most notably Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco, began putting together proposals to relocate the Statue out of New York.
Enter Joseph Pulitzer.
The Hungarian-born newspaper magnate had come to the States as a teen, originally recruited to fight in the Civil War, and embodied every aspect of the American Dream. He’d worked his way up from nothing to running the New York World and becoming one of the most important historical figures in American journalism.
He wasn’t about to watch the Statue shipped to an inferior city, especially if he had an opportunity to shame New York’s wealthiest in the process. For a newspaper that appealed to the masses, that was just good business.
Pulitzer announced that he would print the name of any individual who donated to complete pedestal on the front page of his newspaper, no matter the size of the donation. In typical Kickstarter fashion, certain little prizes and memorabilia were promised to those who donated the most.
It worked like magic. Within months, about 120,000 New Yorkers donated over $100,000 and the project was underway. The Statue of Liberty would become a symbol of hope and freedom for generations to come, but almost didn’t exist as we know it today.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
And thank Joseph Pulitzer for Kickstarting before Kickstarter!