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History of The Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell's Journey - Humble Beginnings

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Although it is now one of the world’s great icons of freedom, the Liberty Bell wasn’t always a symbolic force. Originally used to call the Pennsylvania Assembly to meetings, the Bell was soon adopted not only by abolitionists and suffragists, but also by Civil Rights advocates, Native Americans, immigrants, war protestors and so many other groups as their symbol. Each year, two million people journey to the Bell just to look at it and ponder its meaning.

Humble Beginnings

The bell now called the Liberty Bell was cast in the Whitechapel Foundry in the East End of London and sent to the building currently known as Independence Hall, then the Pennsylvania State House, in 1752. It was an impressive looking object, 12 feet in circumference around the lip with a 44-pound clapper. Inscribed at the top was part of a Biblical verse from Leviticus, "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof."

Unfortunately, the clapper cracked the bell on its first use. A couple of local artisans, John Pass and John Stow, recast the bell twice, once adding more copper to make it less brittle and then adding silver to sweeten its tone. No one was quite satisfied, but it was put in the tower of the State House anyway.

From 1753 until 1777, the bell, despite its crack, rang mostly to call the Pennsylvania Assembly to order. But by the 1770s, the bell tower had started rotting and some felt ringing the bell might cause the tower to topple. Thus, the bell was probably not rung at all to announce the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or even to call people to hear its first public reading on July 8, 1776. Still, officials considered it valuable enough to move, with 22 other large Philadelphia bells, to Allentown in September 1777, so that invading British forces would not confiscate it. It was returned to the State House in June 1778.

While it remains unknown what exactly caused the first crack in the Liberty Bell, presumably every subsequent use caused further damage. In February 1846, repairmen attempted to fix the bell with the stop drilling method, a technique in which the edges of a crack are filed down to prevent them from rubbing against one another and then joined by rivets. Unfortunately, in a subsequent ringing for Washington’s Birthday later that month, the upper end of the crack grew and officials resolved to never ring the bell again.

By that time, though, it had hung around long enough to gain a reputation. Because of its inscription, abolitionists started using it as a symbol, first calling it the Liberty Bell in the Anti-Slavery Record in the mid-1830s. By 1838, enough abolitionist literature had been distributed that people stopped calling it the State House bell and forever made it the Liberty Bell.

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