The Liberty Bell

Around the top of the bell is inscribed.

"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 [sic] for the State House in Philada."

The source of the inscription is Leviticus 25:10, which reads

"And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family."

The inscription was intended to mark the 50th anniversary of William Penn's Charter of Privileges of 1701.

** Note that the spelling of "Pennsylvania" was not at that time universally adopted. In fact, in the original Constitution, the name of the state is also spelled "Pensylvania."

Liberty Bell with its famous crack
Liberty Bell with its famous crack

How did the Liberty Bell come into being?
On or about November 1st. 1751, the Superintendents, Isaac Norris, Thomas Leech, and Edward Warner at a meeting of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania were entrusted to obtain a Bell from England, weighing in at about 2,000 pounds, and the inscription that was to be placed on the bell was laid down.

Casting the Bell.
Thomas Lester founder from The Whitechapel Foundry London, in September 1752 was chosen to manufacture the Bell, which in March of 1753 came ashore in Philadelphia.

After the bell was hung, it was reported that it cracked on the first stroke, it was intended to return it to England, but the ship's Captain could not take it on board.

Two Philadelphia workmen, Pass and Stow, undertook to recast it, when breaking up Lester's work they believed it too brittle, and then modified the alloy by adding 1.5 ounces of copper for every pound weight of Lester's bell. They were unaware that bell metal needs to be brittle, to allow a freedom of tone when struck.

The second casting was also unsuccessful, so for the third time it was recast, this time with the right balance of metal.

In 1753, further dissatisfaction with the bell was expressed, and Thomas Lester agreed to to again recast the bell for 2 pence per pound weight of it, but that did not happen.

So, Pass and Stow's second casting was finally hung in the State House Steeple.

Fear of the British.
In 1777, fear of the British occupying Philadelphia, caused the Liberty Bell and other bells to be hastily removed from the city, the Liberty Bell was taken to Allantown and hidden in the Zion Reform Church for almost a year before going back to its home in the State House Steeple.

How did the bell become cracked?
Two different stories circulate. One is that it cracked in 1835 while being tolled on the death of Chief Justice John Marshall of Virginia, and that in 1846 an attempt was made to restore the bell's tone by supporting the sides of the fracture, but this was to no avail. The story goes that it was tolled for the last time for Washington's birthday for, by then, the cracks had begun to spread.

Another story which gives more detail appeared in the Reading Eagle in 1911 and was told to the reporter by Emmanuel Joseph Rauch who was then about 86 years of age. He told how, when he was 10 years old in 1835, he was one day passing State House Square when the Steeple Keeper - whose name was Downing - called after him and several other boys, inviting them to ring the bell in honour of Washington's birthday. Downing tied a rope to the clapper of the bell and, thrusting the end of the rope into the hands of the eager boys, instructed them to pull with all their might. After 10 or 12 strokes, there was a change in the tone of the bell which Downing noticed as well and, after climbing into the steeple, found a crack 12" to 15" long, whereupon the boys were told to run along home.

Which of these two stories is true we may never know, but the fact remains that the principal crack is in line with the swing of the clapper and it is an established fact that many bells have been cracked by the improper operation of the clapper in this way.

Size of Crack:
The crack is approximately 1/2 inch wide and 24.5 inches long.

Bell Statistics:

circumference around the lip: 12 ft.

circumference around the crown: 7 ft. 6 in.

lip to crown: 3 ft.

height over the crown: 2 ft. 3 in.

thickness at lip: 3 in.

thickness at crown: 1-1/4 in.

weight (originally): 2080 lbs.

length of clapper: 3 ft. 2 in.

weight of clapper: 44-1/2 lbs.

weight of yoke: 200 lbs.

yoke wood: American Elm (a.k.a. slippery elm)

Length of visible hairline fracture: approx. 2' 4"

(this and next measurement made by Park curator Bob Giannini in 1993)

Length of drilled crack: approx. 2' 1/2"

Have Bell - will travel.
Chronicles of the Liberty Bell's Travels Through the United States From 1885 to 1915.

Among the more obscure events in American history involves the Liberty Bell's travels by rail car around the United States to be placed on exhibit at numerous World's Fairs. From 1885 to 1915, the Liberty Bell traveled by rail on seven separate trips to eight different World's Fair exhibitions visiting nearly 400 cities and towns on those trips coast to coast.

At the time, the Liberty Bell's trips were widely publicized so that each town where the Liberty Bell train stopped was well prepared for their venerable guest. Each stop on the way to the host World's Fair exhibition lasted anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours. The Liberty Bell was nearly always met with military salutes, parades, patriotic music and throngs of cheering men, women and children.

The Liberty Bell Journeys.
1885 - Philadelphia to New Orleans for the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition

1893 - Philadelphia to Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition

1895-96 - Philadelphia to Atlanta for the Cotton States and International Exposition

1902 - Philadelphia to Charleston, S.C., for the Inter-State and West Indian Exposition

1903 - Philadelphia to Boston for the 128th Anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill

1904 - Philadelphia to St. Louis for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (the St. Louis World's Fair)

1915 - Philadelphia to San Francisco for the Panama-Pacific Exposition and to San Diego for the Panama California Exposition

250th. Anniversary of the Liberty Bell.

2001 marked the 250th. anniversary of the casting of the now famous Liberty Bell, and Whitechapel Foundry was commissioned to cast a replica of the this US artifact.

Woman Kissing the Liberty Bell in Seattle, July 1915
Woman Kissing the Liberty Bell in Seattle, July 1915

Another Liberty Bell.
There can't be many businesses you can return to for the same product after a quarter of a millennium and have it manufactured mere yards from where the original was made, but that's what happened when USA Renaissance commissioned the Foundry to make a full-size replica of the Liberty Bell, complete with headstock and fittings. It also has rivet heads cast on its surface and a 'crack' engraved between them to match those on the original. The bell was produced to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the landing in the USA of the original in September 1752. Pictured with the bell are Foundry employees John Bentham & Ghulam 'Raz' Rasool, who made the headstock and assembled the fittings.

Picture of the replica Liberty Bell
Picture of the replica Liberty Bell

Biecenntenial Bell.
Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain in 1976, visited Philadelphia and presented a gift to the American people of a replica of the Bicentennial Bell, weighing in at 12,446 pounds, which was cast in the same British foundry as the original. This bell hangs in the modern bell tower located on 3rd Street near Independence Hall.

Liberty Bell moves.
On January 1, 1976, in anticipation of increased visitation during the bicentennial year of American independence, the Liberty Bell was relocated from Independence Hall to a glass pavilion one block north (at the southwest corner of 5th and Market Streets).

On April 6, 2001, the Liberty Bell was struck several times with a hammer by Mitchell Guilliatt, a self-described wanderer from Nebraska. He hit the bell four times while shouting "God lives!" The reason he gave was to declare his independence from the United States of America and not to attempt to deface or destroy the bell. After repairs, there was no visible damage to the bell (other than the famous crack).

In October 2003, the bell was moved a short distance southwest to a new pavilion, the Liberty Bell Center. There was some controversy about the site chosen for the new structure, which was just to the south of the site of where George Washington had lived in the 1790s. After the initial planning, the building's site was found to be adjacent to the quarters for the slaves owned by Washington. The decision over how to acknowledge this fact in the display has led to some debate.

In 2007, the bell remains in this location at the northeast corner of 6th and Chestnut Streets. The new National Constitution Center is located two blocks to the north, and Independence Hall is located directly across the street, on the south side of Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th Streets.

The Liberty Bell depicted on the Franklin Half Dollar
The Liberty Bell depicted on the Franklin Half Dollar

The Liberty Bell remains one of the most important icons in American History, and continues to draw thousands of visitors each year.


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Copyright© 1984/2014 Mackenzie J. Gregory All rights reserved