Legacy Lumber from WWI Research Helps to Repair the U.S. Capitol Building

U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. Photo by Bob Bowie on Unsplash.

After the events of January 6, 2021, a collaboration of Forest Service research scientists, engineers, Department of Defense service members, private citizens, and the Architect of the Capitol teamed up to repair the damages done to one of the most important buildings in the United States—the U.S. Capitol Building.

This collaboration and the historic journey of the Forest Products Laboratory’s legacy lumber to repair the U.S. Capitol building are detailed in depth in a recently published December 2022 report, “Lumber from World War I Research at the Forest Products Laboratory Helps Repair the U.S. Capitol Building.”

Historically significant millwork, doors, podiums, and desks were damaged, destroyed, and stolen during the January 6 events. To truly restore the Capitol building, a rare store of lumber that matched the wood damaged in the Capitol was needed—and would have been nearly impossible to find, except over one hundred years ago, Forest Products Laboratory researchers shelved approximately 3,000 lb. of leftover lumber from World War I plane propeller research. This legacy lumber, stored in the Lab’s lumber vaults, covered in decades of dust, and nearly forgotten by time, was called into patriotic service one last time.

Manufacturing propellers at Forest Products Laboratory during WWI. Ten propellers were produced per week by workers on a three-shift-per-day schedule. USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory.

With the enthusiasm of so many collaborators and the necessary vintage lumber, the U.S. Capitol Building is on its way to full restoration. Forest Products Laboratory’s Drs. Bob Ross and Adam Senalik, with Mr. Nate Kamprath of U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center, Department of Defense, were the driving force behind the effort to bring this collaboration together and provide this priceless store of lumber to the U.S. Capitol.

When the full extent of the U.S. Capitol building’s damages became known, Kamprath knew researchers at the Lab were the right people to call. These types of restoration projects are part of the Lab’s long history of providing technical assistance to other agencies in the federal government and serving the public nationally and internationally. Forest Products Laboratory researchers have contributed their extensive wood science research and knowledge on a variety of topics, including the development of innovative materials to the inspection and repair of historic structures and ships.

Forest Products Laboratory’s legacy lumber leftover from its WWI propeller research study. This stack was stored in the Lab’s lumber vaults, covered in decades of dust, and nearly forgotten by time before it was called into patriotic service one last time. Photo by Amy Androff, USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory.

Ross’s enthusiasm has been boundless from the moment he answered Kamprath’s call proposing the repair effort. “It was an honor to work on this project, right from the start. Working on the restoration of the U.S. Capitol Building is a highlight of my career—the U.S. Capitol Building is arguably the most important building in the United States, if not the world.  Contributing, with a group of great individuals like we had, was incredible,” explained Ross.

Kamprath agrees. “It has definitely been a fascinating journey for these old boards; from a Philippine rainforest, to the Ichabod Williams Sawmill in New York City, to a young Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, for WWI propeller research, to nearly forgotten as basement surplus for a century, and then to a final suitable home as millwork in our Nation’s Capitol Building. This material, a national treasure, has touched much history, and will continue to do so. It is humbling to have played a very small part in this necessary mending. Particular recognition to Dr. Bob Ross of the Forest Products Laboratory for his steadfast support, leadership, and for spearheading this effort to fruition. Also, thanks to the professional team assembled by Bob, and numerous other experts who supported along the way,” said Kamprath.

In February 2021, the Forest Products Laboratory’s 3,000-lb stack of vintage lumber was bundled and prepared for transport from its home in Madison, WI, to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory.

Every individual who has participated in this project is incredibly proud of the work they put in.    

“It was a pleasure to work with all of our authors, collaborators, everyone who contributed—all dedicated professionals. I am very proud of the work we did, and this publication. It does a nice job of summarizing all our efforts—it tells the story for all to read about—folks today and future generations as the story is now documented and preserved in the literature. Special thanks to our editor, Barb Hogan, for the preparation of the publication,” said Ross.

For previous coverage of the Forest Products Laboratory’s legacy timber, please visit LabNotes at FPL Sends Historic Legacy Mahogany to Help Restore U.S. Capitol Lab Notes (usda.gov) and More to the Story – From Forgotten to the Doors of the Capitol of Democracy Lab Notes (usda.gov)

Read the full Forest Service general technical report at www.fs.usda.gov/research/treesearch/65508.

The original shipping stamp that addressed the Forest Products Laboratory’s plane propeller research lumber to Forest Products Laboratory, in Madison, WI. Photo by Amy Androff, USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory.


To find out more about the extraordinary contributions our researchers are making to the world of wood science, please visit the Forest Products Laboratory at https://www.fpl.fs.usda.gov/ 

Contact us about this story or any of our other incredible projects at https://www.fpl.fs.usda.gov/news/mediacontacts/index.php