The Statue of Freedom—also known as Armed Freedom or simply Freedom—is a bronze statue designed by Thomas Crawford (1814–1857) that, since 1863, has crowned the dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Originally named Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace, official U.S. government publications now state that the statue “is officially known as the Statue of Freedom“. The statue depicts a female figure wearing a military helmet and holding a sheathed sword in her right hand and a laurel wreath and shield in her left.
Freedom is a colossal bronze standing figure 19½-feet tall and weighing approximately 15,000 pounds. Her crest peaks at 288 feet above the east front plaza of the U.S. Capitol. She is a female allegorical figure whose right hand holds the hilt of a sheathed sword while a laurel wreath of victory and the Shield of the United States are clasped in her left hand. Her chiton is secured by a brooch inscribed “U.S.” and is partially covered by a heavy, Native American–style fringed blanket thrown over her left shoulder. She faces east towards the main entrance of the building and the rising Sun. She wears a military helmet adorned with stars and an eagle’s head which is itself crowned by an umbrella-like crest of feathers. Although not actually called “Columbia”, she shares many of her iconic characteristics. Freedom stands atop a cast-iron globe encircled with one of the national mottoes, 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.
Crawford died in 1857 before the full size plaster 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 City in December, but all sections were not in Washington, D.C. until late March 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.
While Freedom was being cast at Mills’ foundry, the foreman in charge of the casting went on strike. Instead of paying him the higher wages he demanded, Mills turned the project over to Philip Reid, one of the slaves working at the facility. Reid presided over the rest of the casting and assembly of the figure. Late in 1863, construction of the dome was sufficiently advanced for the installation of the statue, which was hoisted by former slaves 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.