Rebuilding Democracy — with Mahogany

After the January 6 riot, the Forest Products Lab helped repair the U.S. Capitol.

Stacked pieces of mahogany wood

Ross with the rare mahogany that had been stored in the Forest Products Lab basement since 1919. Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal

When the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol caused extensive damage to historical wooden artifacts, Robert Ross, the acting assistant director of the USDA Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) on the UW–Madison campus, came to the rescue.

The vandalism had caused damage to doors and woodwork made of mahogany, which now has protected international conservation status. This means that the old-growth mahogany originally used in the Capitol is no longer available.

Ross knew that Forest Products happened to have some priceless mahogany that had been stored in its basement since 1919, most likely left over from a study on wooden propellers used for warplanes in France.

Lab staff carefully wrapped some 3,000 pounds of the precious wood and shipped it to the Capitol, where repair work began in June.

Ross told the FPL website Lab Notes that he felt privileged to play a part in the restoration. “I consider working on the U.S. Capitol the most important project I’ve ever worked on,” he said, “because it serves to rebuild the heart of our democracy.”

Published in the Fall 2021 issue

Tags: Campus history, politics, Public service, Research

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