The Liberty Bell, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, represents freedom, liberty, and justice to millions around the world.
According to legend, the Liberty Bell was first struck on July 8, 1776, as a call to the citizens of Philadelphia to the reading of the Declaration of Independence. It is also said that the bell was rung in 1774 to announce the meeting of the First Continental Congress, as well as in 1775 after the battles of Lexington and Concord. Although it is disputed as to whether or not the bell was rung at each and every one of these events, it is nevertheless quite clear that what started out as a simple court house tower bell has now become an international symbol of freedom.
A Bell is needed for the Pennsylvania State House
On November 1, 1751, the speaker of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania asked superintendents Isaac Norris, Thomas Leech and Edward Warner to locate a foundry to create a bell for the tower of the Pennsylvania State House, which was still under construction. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, England was chosen for the task. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which opened its doors in 1570, is England’s oldest manufacturing company with continuous operation since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
The First Tower Bell
The bell created by Thomas Lester of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry cost 100 pounds and weighed 2080 pounds. It was loaded onto the ship Hibernia and sometime in September of 1752 it arrived in Philadelphia. According to Whitechapel Bell Foundry records, the bell arrived in perfect condition. The bell was hung between temporary scaffolding to test its sound. The clapper was swung, and the first time the bell was struck, it cracked.
John Pass and John Stow Recast the Bell
There were no ships in port to return the damaged bell. Instead, the bell was recast by John Dock Pass and John Stow of Philadelphia. They broke the bell into chunks and melted them down, but at some point during the recast, Pass and Stow added copper to the composition and this changed the tone of the bell considerably. They recast the bell again using a correct balance of metals. In 1753, the bell was hung in the State House tower.
The Liberty Bell is hidden from the British
Before 1776, the bell was rung to warn of fires in the town and to announce important events, such as public meetings, and to announce the repeal of the 1764 Sugar Act. It was also rung to announce the meeting regarding the Stamp Act. These events were historically important because they led to the American Revolution. In 1777, when the British troops were bearing down on Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell and other important town bells were moved to keep the British from melting them down and using them as weapons. The Liberty Bell was hidden beneath the floor of the Zion Reformed Church in nearby Allentown and later returned to the State House tower. It is owned by the City of Philadelphia and cared for by the National Park Service. It is now displayed at the Liberty Bell Center in Independence National Historic Park.
The Liberty Bell Inscription
The Liberty Bell inscription is a quote from the Bible: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof—Lev. XXV, v.x. By order of the Assembly of the Province of Pensylvania for the State House in Philada. Pass and Stow Philada MDCCLIII.”
The Demise of the Whitechapel Replacement Bell
When the first bell cracked, Philadelphians did order a replacement bell from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry called the “Sister Bell,” which arrived in 1753 and was installed at Independence Hall in the Pennsylvania State House. It was attached to the State House clock and rang the hours. It was temporarily loaned to the St. Augustine Church in Philadelphia, which was destroyed during Nativist Riots in 1844. This bell was also recast by the friars of St. Augustine and moved to Villanova University. It is now in the Falvey Memorial Library on Villanova’s campus.
A Bit of Liberty Bell Trivia
After the Civil War, the Liberty Bell was sent on a train tour around the country including Chicago, New Orleans, St. Louis, Atlanta, Boston, and Charleston, where it was displayed at fairs and expositions.
To avoid another crack on the fragile bell, the Liberty Bell was tapped lightly when allied troops landed at Normandy Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, but the sound was played on national radio.
The Liberty Bell and its inscription was used in the plot of the 2004 adventure thriller National Treasure starring Nicolas Cage.
- Haeber, Jonathon. “Tiny Sensors To Monitor Liberty Bell During Move.” National Geographic News. July 4, 2003.
- History & Culture. Liberty Bell Center. NPS.Gov.
- National Treasure. Dir. Jon Turtletaub. Perfs. Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha. Walt Disney Pictures, 2004.
- Norris, David A. “Chimes of Freedom: The Liberty Bell.” History Magazine. December/January, 2008.