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Statue of Freedom

The Model for the Statue of Freedom

 

The full-size plaster model for the Statue of Freedom was used to cast the bronze statue on top of the Capitol dome. Freedom wears a helmet encircled with stars and topped with an eagle’s head and feathers, the talons hanging at either side of her face. Her long, curly hair flows down her back. Her dress is secured with a brooch with the letters “US,” and she is draped with a fur-trimmed robe. Her right hand holds a sheathed sword, the left a laurel wreath of victory and the striped shield of the United States. 

The model, which had been stored in pieces for many years, was restored in 1992 by the Architect of the Capitol with funds donated to the U.S. Capitol Preservation Commission. It was on display in the Russell Senate Office Building before being moved to Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. 

 

The bronze Statue of Freedom, facing east over the central entrance, crowns the dome of the United States CapitolThe bronze Statue of Freedom, facing east over the central entrance, crowns the dome of the United States Capitol, 288 feet above the east front plaza.
Architect of the Capitol

    American sculptor Thomas Crawford was already working on other sculptures for the Capitol in his studio in Rome when he was chosen to design the figure to top the new Capitol dome. In his first version, Freedom wore a wreath of wheat and laurel. After he saw the drawing of the dome, Crawford created a second design with a liberty cap, the emblem of freed slaves in ancient Rome and a symbol of liberty during the American and French revolutions. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis objected to this symbol as "inappropriate to a people who were born free" and suggested a helmet. The approved third design includes a helmet topped with an eagle head and feathers, in homage to the American Indian.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress and Architect of the Capitol

    Design

  • The original plaster model, shipped from Rome to the United States in five main sections, was used to make the mold for the final bronze that stands atop the Capitol. Clark Mills cast the statue in his foundry at the edge of the District of Columbia from 1860 to 1862. It was made by pressing the pieces into fine, moist sand to create a negative. After a core was formed, molten bronze was poured into a half-inch space to create the hollow figure. Fifteen thousand pounds of copper, 1,500 pounds of tin, and 200 pounds of zinc were needed to cast the 19 ½-foot statue.

    One of Mills’s most valued assistants was his highly skilled slave Philip Reid, whom he described as “an expert and admirable workman.” Reid and the other slaves in Mills’s foundry were paid only when they worked on Sundays. After he was emancipated in 1862, Reid assisted Mills during the moving and temporary placement of the bronze statue on the Capitol grounds.

    Photograph by Mathew Brady, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

    The Casting of Bronze

  • The bronze Statue of Freedom was given an acid wash, which produced a distinctive bronze-green patina. It was lifted to the Capitol dome in sections. The placing of the head, on December 2, 1863, was marked by a 35-gun salute and answered by guns from the 12 forts that encircled the city during the Civil War.

    This drawing by Thomas U. Walter shows a section of the dome with the scaffolding used to erect the Statue of Freedom in 1863. Note the detail of the top section, with the head being lifted in place.

    Architect of the Capitol

    Installation

  • While the statue had been cleaned in place over the years, in 1991 it was determined that to fully restore the statue, it would have to come down. On May 9, 1993, Freedom was lifted from its pedestal and lowered onto the east front plaza. The conservation effort included removing corrosion and caulk and stripping the interior paint. Repairs included 750 bronze plugs and patches. Chemicals were applied to restore the patina, and the bronze was given protective coatings. The cast iron pedestal was cleaned, repaired, and painted in place atop the dome. The statue was lifted back in place by helicopter in September 1993, the bicentennial of the laying of the first cornerstone of the Capitol.

    Architect of the Capitol

    Restoring the Original Statue