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Liberty Bell

aka State House Bell

Liberty Bell

On November 1, 1751, the Pennsylvania Assembly ordered a bell from Whitechapel Foundry in London to commemorate the 50th anniversary of William Penn's Charter of Privileges, Pennsylvania's first constitution. The bell arrived in Philadelphia on September 1, 1752, but was not hung until March 10, 1753. The bell cracked on its first test ring, so Philadelphia foundry workers John Pass and John Stow were hired to melt it down and cast a new one. Pass and Stow decided to add an ounce-and-a-half of copper per pound of old bell to make the new bell less brittle, but when it was rehung on March 29, 1753 the sound produced was deemed unacceptable. Pass and Stow melted the bell down and recast it again, but once again it produced an unacceptable tone. After this attempt the Assembly asked Whitechapel to cast a whole new bell. The new bell still did not meet expectations, however, so the "old" bell was placed in the State House steeple and the new one was placed in the cupola atop the State House roof and attached to a clock to sound the hours. The "old" bell is the one we are familiar with today.

The "State House bell," as it was originally known, was rung to call the State Assembly together and to summon citizens together for special announcements and events. Among the more historically important occasions, it tolled when Benjamin Franklin was sent to England to air the colonies' grievances, when George III became King of England, and to call citizens together to discuss the Sugar and Stamp acts. Tradition holds that it was also rung for the First Continental Congress in 1774, the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775, and to celebrate adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The steeple was in poor condition when the Declaration of Independence was signed, however, and historians now doubt that the bell was rung on that historic occasion; most of the other bells in the city were rung, however. From 1790 to 1800, when Philadelphia was the nation's capital, uses of the Bell included calling the state legislature into session, summoning voters to hand in their ballots at the State House window, and to commemorate Washington's birthday and the Fourth of July. It did not become known as the "Liberty Bell" until 1836, when a picture of the bell was used on the frontispiece of an issue of Liberty, an abolitionist newspaper.

The bell's infamous crack first became noticeable on July 8, 1835, while the bell was being rung for the funeral of John Marshall. Various efforts to repair the crack were made over the subsequent years, but by the time the bell was rung to commemorate George Washington's birthday in 1846 the crack had grown large enough to make the bell unringable. The bell has not been rung since, but it was struck upon ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, on September 25, 1920, and when Allied forces landed in France on June 6, 1944.

The Liberty Bell hung in the Philadelphia City Hall until 1976, when it was moved to a special pavilion. It was moved into a specially constructed building in 2003, and remains there today.

Facts and Figures

There are three inscriptions on the bell:
"Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof" -- from Leviticus 25:10
"By Order of the Assembly of the Province of Pensylvania for the State House in Phila" -- "Pensylvania" was an accepted spelling of the state's name at the time and is, therefore, not a misprint
"Pass and Stow / Philada / MDCCLII"

The bell is composed of 70% copper, 25% tin, and trace amounts of lead, zinc, arsenic, gold, and silver.

The main crack is about 1/2 inch wide and 24-1/2 inches long, but there are also a number of hairline cracks radiating from the upper end of the main crack.

The bell is 12 feet around at the lip, 7 feet 6 inches around the crown, and 3 feet from lip to crown; the clapper is 3 feet 2 inches long.

The yoke is made of American elm.


Independence Hall Association

See Also

State House
Benjamin Franklin
George III
Stamp Act
Battle of Lexington and Concord
John Marshall
George Washington

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The Robinson Library >> Philadelphia

This page was last updated on January 01, 2019.