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The Casting of Bronze

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

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 Capitol.