The United States celebrated the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty on Friday with the naturalization of 125 new citizens from 46 nations, a ceremony of unity that temporarily put aside the political and geographical changes associated with the contentious issue of immigration.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar kicked off the daylong celebration with a speech praising immigrants for bringing diversity to the nation, thus strengthening it. Other scheduled highlights included hooking up Internet webcams on the statue to let viewers gaze out from Liberty island onto New York Harbor, a salute from a small flotilla of boats and, later, a fireworks display.

In 2010, the New York area was the scene of 72,000 naturalizations out of the 670,000 held nationally, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said by telephone from Friday’s ceremony.

The Statute of Liberty was designed to be a lighthouse but it evolved into a symbol of freedom and of friendship between France and the United States. Ultimately it became the first sight of hope for waves of European immigrants coming to the United States to avoid famine and war.

The statue, also known as “Liberty Enlightening the World,” traces its artistic roots back to classical lighthouses in the shape of heroic deities that adorned some ancient ports. The version in New York is a neoclassical interpretation of the Roman goddess of freedom, Libertas.

The robed female figure holds a tablet on which is inscribed the date of the American Declaration of Independence from England — July 4, 1776 — a milestone in the first successful liberation of colonies and settlements from a mother country.The statue itself was a gift from the French people to the United States, which raised money for the pedestal.