History of Liberty Bell

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The Liberty Bell is another iconic symbol of American Independence.

Liberty Bell

Philadelphia had a city bell which was used for public proclamations or warnings of danger. The bell had been in use since the city was founded in 1682. The original bell hung from a tree behind the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall) and was said to have been brought to the city by its founder, William Penn.

In 1751, the Pennsylvania State House sought a better quality bell which could be heard for greater distances.

The colony’s London agent, Robert Charles, was given the orders to obtain a “good Bell of about two thousands pound weight”.

Charles ordered the bell from Thomas Lester of the London firm Lester and Pack. The bell arrived in Philadelphia in August 1752 and was noted to be “in good order, but had not sounded yet”. 

Independence Hall

The bell was mounted and cracked on the first strike. The captain of the ship which brought the bell over refused to take it back with him.

Two local founders offered to recast the bell, but were inexperienced in bell casting. The men, John Pass and John Stow, broke the bell into small pieces, melted it down and cast a new bell.

A public celebration was scheduled to test the new bell, which did not break when struck. One hearer described the sound as two coal scuttles being banged together.

The bell was immediately taken away and recast a third time and the sound was deemed satisfactory.

The bell was hung in the steeple of the State House in June 1753. Eventually a second bell was made and the Assembly decided to keep both.

One of the earliest mentions of the bell is in a letter from Benjamin Franklin in 1755.  The bell was rung in 1760 to mark the accession of George III to the throne.

Bells were rung when the Declaration of Independence was read on July 8, 1776, however it is unknown if the liberty bell was one of those rung.

The bell was moved to an upper floor of the Pennsylvania State House and rung on the 4th of July, Washington’s Birthday and election days in the early years of our country.

When the state capital was moved to Lancaster, the City of Philadelphia purchased the land and the bell.  Sometime between 1817-1846 the bell was cracked, but it is unknown how the damage occurred, although various theories abound. The first mention of the crack was in a 1846 newspaper article. 

King George III

A recast was made which is located at Villanova University.

The symbol of American Independence came from a story by George Lippard and his story in 1847, “Fourth of July, 1776”.

In 1848, the city moved the bell to the Assembly Room where the Declaration and U.S. Constitution were debated and signed decades earlier.

Abraham Lincoln

President-elect Abraham Lincoln delivered an address in the assembly room en route to his inauguration.  Four years later, his body returned for public viewing following his assassination. The bell was placed at his head.

During the countries centennial celebrations the bell traveled the country, which only made the crack worse.

Following World War II, the City of Philadelphia transferred custody of the bell and Independence Hall to the federal government.

As the bell says, “”Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

Today the Liberty Bell weighs 2,080 pounds and is 70% copper and 25% tin with the remaining 5% a combination of various elements.

Liberty Bell Savings Bonds were popular in 1950.

The Liberty Bell has appeared on various coinage and stamps.

Inscribed on her are the words “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

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