Statue of Freedom

From Academic Kids

Freedom

The Statue of Freedom is a bronze statue sculpted by Thomas Crawford, placed atop the dome of the United States Capitol in Washington, DC.

Freedom is a female figure who holds a sheathed sword in her right hand and her left holds a laurel wreath of victory and the shield of the United States with thirteen stripes. She wears a helmet adorned with stars and an eagle's head. A brooch inscribed "U.S." secures her fringed robes. She stands on a cast-iron globe encircled with the national motto, E Pluribus Unum. The lower part of the base is decorated with fasces and wreaths. Ten bronze points tipped with platinum are attached to her headdress, shoulders, and shield for protection from lightning. The bronze statue stands 19 feet 6 inches tall and weighs approximately 15,000 pounds. Her crest rises 288 feet above the east front plaza.

For many years, most people thought that Freedom was a Native American figure because of the eagle feathers on her helmet and the difficulty of seeing her from ground level. Others have mistaken her for a representation of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war.

A monumental statue for the top of the national Capitol appeared in Architect Thomas U. Walter's original drawing for the new cast-iron dome, which was authorized in 1855. Walter's drawing showed the outline of a statue representing "Liberty"; Crawford proposed an allegorical figure of "Freedom triumphant in War and Peace". After Secretary of War Jefferson Davis objected to the sculptor's intention to include a liberty cap, the symbol of freed slaves, Crawford replaced it with a crested Roman helmet.

Crawford was commissioned to design the Statue of Freedom in 1855 and executed the plaster model for the statue in his studio in Rome. He died in 1857 before the model left his studio. The model, packed into six crates, was shipped from Italy in a small sailing vessel in the spring of 1858. During the voyage the ship began to leak and stopped in Gibraltar for repairs. After leaving Gibraltar, the ship began leaking again to the point that it could go no farther than Bermuda, where the model was stored until other transportation could be arranged. Half of the crates finally arrived in New York in December, but all sections were not in Washington D.C. until late March of 1859.

Beginning in 1860, the statue was cast in five main sections by Clark Mills, whose bronze foundry was located on the outskirts of Washington. Work was halted in 1861 because of the Civil War, but by the end of 1862 the statue was finished and temporarily displayed on the Capitol grounds. The cost of the statue, exclusive of installation, was $23,796.82. Late in 1863, construction of the dome was sufficiently advanced for the installation of the statue, which was hoisted in sections and assembled atop the cast-iron pedestal. The final section, the figure's head and shoulders, was raised on December 2, 1863, to a salute of 35 guns answered by the guns of the 12 forts around Washington.

In 1993, after almost 130 years in place, the bronze statue was brought down from its pedestal for restoration. The work was needed because of extensive pitting and corrosion on the surface of the bronze and because of a crack and rusting on the cast-iron pedestal. The project was guided by the recommendations of a thorough conservation and engineering study conducted in 1991. The United States Capitol Preservation Commission provided $780,000 in privately raised funds, which covered all project costs.

The plaster model of the statue, which had been in storage for 25 years, was reassembled and restored in the basement rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building, where it was returned to permanent public display in January 1993. On May 9, 1993, the statue was removed by helicopter.

The cast-iron pedestal was restored in place atop the dome. The metal was stripped of paint, and the wreaths and fasces were removed to ensure that they were thoroughly cleaned and coated. The crack was permanently repaired, and the entire pedestal was primed and painted with a color specially mixed to match the statue.

Restoration of the statue and the pedestal was completed in approximately four months. The Statue of Freedom was returned to its pedestal by helicopter on October 23, 1993, amidst the congressional celebration of the bicentennial of the U.S. Capitol.

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