In 1853, building on the international success of his celebrated statue the "Greek Slave," expatriate sculptor Hiram Powers began work in Rome on a full-size allegorical figure called "America." In contrast to his earlier, nude work, the personification of America wore a tunic and diadem reminiscent of the classical past, linking the young United States with the republics of Greece and Rome, symbolic birthplaces of democracy.
"America" proved so popular with the public that private patrons commissioned at least twenty bust-length reproductions from Powers. The Museum's example is not only one of the earliest busts of "America" but also the only one signed and dated by Powers. Its polychrome marble base is also original to the piece. The original work of 1860 was destroyed in a warehouse fire in New York in the 1880s.