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The Liberty Bell

History, Facts, Trivia and Timeline


The Liberty Bell
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History of the Bell

As it was to commemorate the Charter's golden anniversary, the quotation "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof," from Leviticus 25:10, was particularly apt.  For the line in the Bible immediately preceding "proclaim liberty" is, "And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year." What better way to pay homage to Penn and hallow the 50th year than with a bell proclaiming liberty?

Also inscribed on the Bell is the quotation, "By Order of the Assembly of the Province of Pensylvania for the State House in Philada." Note that the spelling of "Pensylvania" was not at that time universally adopted. In fact, in the original Constitution, the name of the state is also spelled "Pensylvania." If you get a chance to visit the second floor of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, take a moment to look at the original maps on the wall. They, too, have the state name spelled "Pennsylvania" (and the Atlantic Ocean called by the name of that day, "The Western Ocean"). The choice of the quotation was made by Quaker Isaac Norris, speaker of the Assembly.

The Liberty Bell
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Centered on the front of the Bell are the words, "Pass and Stow / Philada / MDCCLIII." We'll get to Pass and Stow in a bit.

On November 1, 1751, a letter was sent to Robert Charles, the Colonial Agent of the Province of Pennsylvania who was working in London. Signed by Isaac Norris, Thomas Leech, and Edward Warner, it represented the desires of the Assembly to purchase a bell for the State House (now Independence Hall) steeple. The bell was ordered from Whitechapel Foundry, with instructions to inscribe on it the passage from Leviticus.

The bell arrived in Philadelphia on September 1, 1752, but was not hung until March 10, 1753, on which day Isaac Norris wrote, "I had the mortification to hear that it was cracked by a stroke of the clapper without any other violence as it was hung up to try the sound."

The cause of the break is thought to have been attributable either to flaws in its casting or, as they thought at the time, to its being too brittle.

Two Philadelphia foundry workers named John Pass and John Stow were given the cracked bell to be melted down and recast. They added an ounce and a half of copper to a pound of the old bell in an attempt to make the new bell less brittle. For their labors they charged slightly over 36 Pounds.

The new bell was raised in the belfry on March 29, 1753. "Upon trial, it seems that they have added too much copper. They were so teased with the witticisms of the town that they will very soon make a second essay," wrote Isaac Norris to London agent Robert Charles. Apparently nobody was now pleased with the tone of the bell.

Pass and Stow indeed tried again. They broke up the bell and recast it. On June 11, 1753, the New York Mercury reported, "Last Week was raised and fix'd in the Statehouse Steeple, the new great Bell, cast here by Pass and Stow, weighing 2080 lbs."

In November, Norris wrote to Robert Charles that he was still displeased with the bell and requested that Whitechapel cast a new one.

Upon the arrival of the new bell from England, it was agreed that it sounded no better than the Pass and Stow bell. So the "Liberty Bell" remained where it was in the steeple, and the new Whitechapel bell was placed in the cupola on the State House roof and attached to the clock to sound the hours.

The Liberty Bell was rung to call the Assembly together and to summon people together for special announcements and events. The Liberty Bell tolled frequently. Among the more historically important occasions, it tolled when Benjamin Franklin was sent to England to address Colonial grievances, it tolled when King George III ascended to the throne in 1761, and it tolled to call together the people of Philadelphia to discuss the Sugar Act in 1764 and the Stamp Act in 1765.

In 1772 a petition was sent to the Assembly stating that the people in the vicinity of the State House were "incommoded and distressed" by the constant "ringing of the great Bell in the steeple."

But it continued tolling for the First Continental Congress in 1774, the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775 and its most resonant tolling was on July 8, 1776, when it summoned the citizenry for the reading of the Declaration of Independence produced by the Second Continental Congress.

In October 1777, the British occupied Philadelphia.  Weeks earlier all bells, including the Liberty Bell, were removed from the city. It was well understood that, if left, they would likely be melted down and used for cannon. The Liberty Bell was removed from the city and hidden in the floorboards of the Zion Reformed Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which you can still visit today.

Throughout the period 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 tolling to commemorate Washington's birthday and celebrate the Fourth of July.

The Crack in the Liberty Bell

There is widespread disagreement about when the first crack appeared on the Bell. However, it is agreed that the final expansion of the crack which rendered the Bell un-ringable was on Washington's Birthday in 1846.

The Liberty Bell as an Icon

The Bell achieved an iconic status when abolitionists adopted the Bell as a symbol for the movement. It was first used in this association as a frontispiece to an 1837 edition of Liberty, published by the New York Anti-Slavery Society. In retrospect, it is a remarkably apt metaphor for a country literally cracked and freedom fissured for its black inhabitants. William Lloyd Garrison's anti-slavery publication The Liberator reprinted a Boston abolitionist pamphlet containing a poem about the Bell, entitled, The Liberty Bell, which represents the first documented use of the name, "Liberty Bell."

In 1847, George Lippard wrote a fictional story for The Saturday Currier which told of an elderly bellman waiting in the State House steeple for the word that Congress had declared Independence. The story continues that privately he began to doubt Congress's resolve. Suddenly the bellman's grandson, who was eavesdropping on the doors of Congress, yelled to him, "Ring, Grandfather! Ring!"

This story so captured the imagination of people throughout the land that the Liberty Bell was forever associated with the Declaration of Independence.

Starting in the 1880s, the Bell traveled to cities throughout the land "proclaiming liberty" and inspiring the cause of freedom. We have prepared a photo essay of its 1915 journey to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.

The Liberty Bell Pavilion was opened in 1976, in preparation for the nation's bicentennial celebrations. Now, on every Fourth of July, the bell is rung (symbolically tapped), in unison with thousands of bells across the nation.


The Liberty Bell
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Liberty Bell Facts

Location: Liberty Bell Pavilion, Market Street between 5th & 6th, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Bell Originally Cast: Whitechapel Foundry 1752

Bell recast: Pass & Stow Philadelphia 1753 and again later that year

Bell owned by: The City of Philadelphia (not the Park Service)

Pavilion Built: 1976

Pavilion Architects: Mitchell/Giurgola Assocs.

Strike note: E-flat
[source: Charles Boland, "Ring in the Jubilee" ©1973]

Composition: 70% copper, 25% tin, small amounts of lead, zinc, arsenic, gold and silver (a more detailed analysis is given below.)

Bell Stats Detailed Analysis of the Bell's Composition

The Franklin Institute took drillings from the Liberty Bell in 1960. The International Nickel Company analyzed the content and in 1975, scientists from Winterthur Museum and the DuPont Company used an X-Ray Florescence Analyzer to describe the metallic content at ten points around the rim of the Bell. These reading vary greatly. The table here shows the ranges. This table is from "The Story of the Liberty Bell" by David Kimball.

Copper 64.95 - 73.10
Tin 24.00 - 30.16
Lead 1.30 - 5.47
Zinc 0.25 - 1.65
Iron 0.00 - 0.87
Silver 0.14 - 0.26
Antimony 0.08 - 0.18
Arsenic 0.19 - 0.42
Gold 0.02 - 0.06
Nickel 0.00 - 0.28

The Liberty Bell


Liberty Bell Timeline

1701 William Penn issued the Charter of Priviledges, which many historians believe was being celebrated 50 years later with the ordering of what would become the Liberty Bell.


1732 The State House (Independence Hall) was finished. This was Colonial America's grandest public building and would be home to the Liberty Bell. At this time, however, the building had no bell.


1749 The Assembly, "Ordered, That the Superintendents of the State-House, proceed, ... to carry up a Building on the South-side of the said House to contain the Staircase, with a suitable Place thereon for hanging a Bell."


1751 The Pennsylvania Assembly issued an order for the bell.


1752 Isaac Norris, Assembly Speaker and the Chairman of the State House Superintendents asked the Assembly's agent in London, Robert Charles, to buy a bell.

He wrote in his instructions:
    Let the Bell be cast by the best Workmen & examined carefully before it is Shipped with the following words well shaped in large letters round in vizt. /By order of the Assembly of the Province of Pensylvania for the State house in the City of Philada 1752// //and Underneath//Proclaim Liberty thro' all the Land to all the Inhabitants thereof. - Levit. XXV.10
The verse in Leviticus reads, in full, "And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof."

Some historians believe that the inscription was meant as a commemoration and celebration of Penn's extraordinary 1701 Charter of Privileges, which put legislative power in the hands of the Assembly and took it from William Penn and the Proprietorship (those supporting the Penn family). So it would make good sense for the Assembly to pay homage to the rights granted fifty years earlier.

Yet other historians pointedly note that Norris himself was known for his opposition to the Penn family (perhaps explaining why Pennsylvania is spelled "Pensylvania" on the bell). If the Bell were intended to celebrate the 50th anniversary why would it specify 1752, instead of 1751 which would have been the 50th anniversary? Perhaps, Norris recognizing that the Bell would not arrive until 1752 thought it would be curious to backdate his inscription. Or, perhaps, the fiftieth anniversary of the Charter was simply a coincidence. The historical record does not provide us an answer.

Either way, agent Robert Charles ordered a bell from London's Whitechapel Foundry. The cost of the bell including insurance and shipping was 150 Pounds 13 shillings 8 pence.

1752 The Bell was sent from England on the ship Myrtilla owned by Philadelphian David Franks.


1752 The Bell arrived. On September 1, 1752 Norris wrote the following to Assembly Representative Robert Charles: "The Bell is come ashore & in good order." He continued, "we have not yet try'd the sound."


On March 10th Norris again wrote Agent Charles.

    I gave Information that our Bell was generally like & appvd of but in a few days after my writing I had the Mortification to hear that it was cracked by a stroke of the clapper without any other violence as it was hung up to try the sound.
Norris went on to write that "two Ingenious Work-Men" had been hired to recast the bell. These workmen were named John Pass and John Stow and their names are today inscribed on the bell.

After adding a dash more copper into the mixture of the Bell, the workmen were ready to try the new casting. It didn't sound good, apparently. Isaac Norris noted that "they were so teized (teased) by the witicisms of the Town that they...will be very soon ready to make a second essay."

It seems they had added too much copper to the detriment of the tone of the bell.


It was reported in the New York Mercury that "Last Week was raised and fix'd in the Statehouse Steeple, the new great Bell, cast here by Pass and Stow, weighing 2080 lbs. The steeple had been built in March of 1753 by Edmund Woolley, a member of Philadelphia's Carpenters' Company, and the master-builder who had overseen the construction of the State House.

Pass and Stow charged slightly over 36 Pounds for their repair job. According to their bill, the Bell weighed 2,081 pounds.


Not everyone was happy with the way the new Bell sounded, however, most significantly Isaac Norris. He wrote yet again to Robert Charles, "We got our Bell new cast here and it has been used some time but tho some are of opinion it will do I Own I do not like it." Norris suggested returning the metal from the Bell to England to be recast.


Agent Robert Charles ordered a new bell from Whitechapel.


The Assembly resolved to pay for the new bell while keeping the Pass and Stow bell.

When the new bell arrived most folks agreed it sounded no better than Pass and Stow's recast Bell. The Pass and Stow Bell remained in the State House steeple. The new Whitechapel bell was hung in a cupola on the State House roof, attached to the State House clocks. It was this bell which rang the time for Philadelphians. The Pass and Stow bell rang for special events.


It tolled for the meeting of the Assembly which would send Benjamin Franklin to England to address Colonial grievances.


The Pennsylvania Gazette reported that the Bell was rung upon the arrival of Lord Loudon from New York.


It tolled in honor of King George III ascending the throne.


1761 The Assembly permitted nearby St. Paul's Church to use the bell to announce worship until their church building was completed and their own bell installed.


It tolled upon the repeal of the Sugar Act.


The Bell was rung to call the Assembly in which Benjamin Franklin was to be sent to England to address Colonial grievances.


The Bell was "muffled" and rung when ships carrying tax stamps sailed up the Delaware River.


The Bell was rung to summon citizens to a public meeting to discuss the Stamp Act.


After the ringing of the Bell, merchants of Philadelphia held a gripe session condemning regressive Parliamentary measures which included a prohibition on the manufacture of steel in the Province of Pennsylvania as well as a ban on hat making.


It tolled after a resolution claiming that Parliament's latest taxation schemes were subversive of Pennsylvanian's constitutional rights.


It was rung to call the Assembly together to petition the King for a repeal of tea duties.


1772 People living in the vicinity of State House petitioned the Assembly to stop ringing the bell so often, complaining that they were "incommoded and distressed" by the constant "ringing of the great Bell in the Steeple."


Dec. 25,
Shortly after the Boston Tea Party (12/16/1773), the Bell rung the news that the ship Polly was bringing "monopoly" tea into Philadelphia. At this time the Assembly resolved that Captain Ayres of the Polly would neither be allowed to land nor bring his tea to the custom house.


1774 It was noted that the steeple in the State House was in need of repair.


A muffled tolling announced the Intolerable Acts which included the closure of the Port of Boston.


It tolled for a town meting wherein the citizens of Philadelphia pledged over 4,000 pounds in aid for the suffering residents of Boston.


It pealed to announce the Battle of Lexington and Concord.


July 4
The Liberty Bell did not ring on July 4, 1776 for the Declaration of Independence. The reason? The Declaration is dated July 4, 1776, but on that day, the Declaration was sent to the printer. See July 8, 1776.


July 8
The Bell was rung to announce the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Bells tolled throughout the city on that day. Some historians note that the steeple was in bad condition and that perhaps the Liberty Bell did not toll this day. Lacking any record of a replacement bell or measures taken to find an alternate way to ring major events, we feel confident in saying that the Liberty Bell rang.


July 4
The Bell was rung to commemorate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.


War came to the Philadelphia region. The British had won the Battle of Brandywine on September 11 and were poised to move into Philadelphia. Philadelphians tried to remove anything the British could make use of, including bells. Bells could be melted down and recast into cannon. On September 23, the State House Bell was taken down and shipped inland. A member of the Carpenters' Company was put in charge of the physical removal. The bell was hidden in the basement of the Zion Reformed Church in Allentown (where you can visit today). On its journey, the Bell was guarded by Colonel William Polk of North Carolina who was in command of 200 North Carolina and Virginia militiaman.


June 27
The Bell was brought back to Philadelphia but not re-hung. The rotten steeple didn't allow it. The Bell was put into storage for seven years. Some believe the Bell was stored in one of the munitions sheds that flanked the State House.


1781 The State House steeple was torn down.


1785 The Bell was re-hung in the rebuilt State House steeple.


1787 The Bell was rung upon ratification of the Constitution.


1789 It was rung throughout the year to call students of the University of Pennsylvania to classes at nearby Philosophical Hall.


1790 Tolled at death of Franklin.


Rung during the inauguration of John Adams.


Tolled at the death of Washington.


1799 Pennsylvania's state capital moved to Lancaster. The Bell remained in Philadelphia and was used to call voters, to celebrate patriotic occasions, and to toll on the deaths of famous Americans.


Rung during the inauguration of John Adams.


Tolled at the death of Hamilton.


1816 The state of Pennsylvania announced its intention of selling the State House and yard. When it was learned that the yard was going to be subdivided for building lots, the city of Philadelphia was scandalized. It responded by purchasing the building and yard from the state for $70,000.


1821 Philadelphia City Councils (there were two at the time) bought a new bell to be used for the clocks on the State House. The Liberty Bell would remain on the fourth floor of the brick part of the tower.


Bell rung for Lafayette's triumphant return to Philadelphia.

A letter to the Philadelphia Public Ledger on May 4, 1915 (nearly 100 years after the event) claimed that the Bell cracked on this occasion. There was no mention in the contemporary press that the bell cracked at that time, however.


Tolled at the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.


1828 Philadelphia decided to reconstruct the State House steeple. Council also decided to replace the State House clock with a new one in the steeple. It was decided the new clock should have a new bell.

A foundry owner named John Wilbank cast a 4,000 pound bell. In December, Wilbank's bell took the place of the old State House Bell, and the Liberty Bell was moved to a different part of the new tower. The bell that was installed as a clock bell in 1821 disappeared -- It's assumed that Wilbank took it as part of his payment. Wilband was also supposed to haul away the Liberty Bell at that time.

The city sued Wilbank for breach of contract -- because he did not take the Liberty Bell with him. Wilbank argued that draying (hauling) costs exceeded the $400 the Bell was assessed at. They haggled in court before a judge ordered a compromise: Wilbank would pay court costs; the City had to keep the Bell, which was technically considered "on loan" from Wilbank.

Over the years, Wilbank's heirs have agitated the city of Philadelphia to give them the Bell which they considered rightfully theirs. In a 1915 agreement, the family agreed to keep the bell on loan as long as it hung in Independence Hall.

In 1984, an heir of Wilbank named James McCloskey claimed the Bell for himself, noting that it had moved to a pavilion a block north of Independence Hall. He claimed that he wanted to display it in his hometown of Baltimore, or barring that, melt the Bell down "and make seven million rings -- all cracked -- and sell them for $39.95 each."


1828 Rung to celebrate the Catholic Emancipation Act. A newspaper article from 1914 claims the Bell cracked on this occasion. Again, the story was written nearly 100 years after the event. There was no mention in the contemporary press that the bell cracked at that time, however.


1831 City Councils agree to let the youths of the city ring "the old State House Bell" on July 4th.


Rang for the Centennial birthday celebration for George Washington.


Tolled at the death of Lafayette.


1835 In an interview in the Sunday New York Times of July 16, 1911, one Emmanuel Rauch claims that when he was a boy of 10, he was walking through the State House Square on Washington's Birthday when the steeple-keeper, Major Jack Downing, called him over. Rauch, along with several other boys were asked whether they wanted to ring the Bell in honor of Washington's Birthday. The boys started the ringing, and after the clapper had struck about a dozen times, both the lads and Major Downing noticed a change in the Bell's tone. Upon examining the Bell, they discovered a hairline crack, over a foot long. Major Downing sent the boys on their way.


July 8,
Long-believed to have cracked while tolling for John Marshall, who had died while in Philadelphia. However, this is historically questionable.


1837 The Bell was used as a frontispiece to an 1837 edition of Liberty, published by the New York Anti-Slavery Society.


1839 William Lloyd Garrison's anti-slavery publication The Liberator reprinted a Boston abolitionist pamphlet containing a poem about the Bell, entitled, The Liberty Bell, which represents the first documented use of the name, "Liberty Bell."


Muffled and rung upon the death of William Henry Harrison.


The most famous crack in history, the zig zag fracture occurs while the Liberty Bell is being rung for Washington's birthday.

The Philadelphia Public Ledger takes up the story in its February 26, 1846 publication: "The old Independence Bell rang its last clear note on Monday last in honor of the birthday of Washington and now hangs in the great city steeple irreparably cracked and dumb. It had been cracked before but was set in order of that day by having the edges of the fracture filed so as not to vibrate against each other ... It gave out clear notes and loud, and appeared to be in excellent condition until noon, when it received a sort of compound fracture in a zig zag direction through one of its sides which put it completely out of tune and left it a mere wreck of what it was."

Some historians believe that a squabble over money led to this final crack. Christ Church claimed an exclusive priviledge of ringing the bells on Washington's Birthday, as that was the church Washington was affiliated with while he lived in Philadelphia. The city paid the church a $30 bell-ringing fee for "service to the illustrious dead."

However, in 1846, it seems other churches wanted in on the action. Why should Christ Church get all the money and glory? The debate was played out in the newspapers. Ultimately it was decided to press the Liberty Bell into service and discontinue paying for patriotism.


1852 The Bell was brought down from the steeple and placed in "Declaration Chamber" of Independence Hall.


1876 Displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.


1885 Bell traveled by train to New Orleans for a World Industrial and Cotton Exposition and to help foster national unity.


1893 Bell traveled to Chicago for World's Fair.


1895 Bell traveled to Atlanta for the Cotton States and Atlantic Exposition Exposition.


1902 Bell traveled to Charleston for the Interstate and West Indian Exposition.


1903 Bell traveled to Boston to take part in a celebration of the Battle of Bunker Hill.


1904 Bell traveled to St. Louis for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.


1908 Procession through the streets of Philadelphia to celebrate Founders Week.


1915 Bell traveled to San Francisco for the Panama-Pacific Exposition.

City officials were initially reluctant to send the Bell on this trip because they thought all the recent traveling and handling had damaged the Bell. Newspaper editorials across the country weighed in on the pros and cons about moving the Bell. Ultimately a petition signed by several hundred thousand school children helped sway Philadelphia officials to allow the Bell to travel.

The Bell traveled over 10,000 miles on the San Francisco trip, stopping in many towns and cities along the way. Vibrant, patriotic crowds greeted the Bell waving flags, blowing whistles, with brass bands, and gun salutes.

Enthusiastic Philadelphians welcomed the Bell back upon its return to Philadelphia. It was the Bell's final rail journey.


1917 Mounted on a truck and driven through the streets of Philadelphia for a WWI Liberty Bond sale.


Dec. 31
To help celebrate the 150th anniversary of Independence, it was decided that the Liberty Bell should help usher in the New Year with a ceremonial tap. Microphones were placed round the Bell, and at midnight it was struck with a specially designed mallet by the mayor's wife.


D-Day: The Bell tapped with rubber mallet twelve times by Philadelphia Mayor Bernard Samuel during a national radio program to symbolize "Independence." At the show's end the Bell was tapped seven times to symbolize "Liberty."



Tapped on the first anniversary of the Berlin Wall to show solidarity with East Germans.


1976 12:01 A.M. To help celebrate America's Bicentennial, the Liberty Bell was moved from Independence Hall to a pavilion across the street on Independence Mall. The Pavilion which allows visitors to view the Bell at any time during the day was designed by Mitchell/Giurgola and Associates.


1997 The National Park Service instituted a "fee demonstration program" at three less-visited locations in Philadelphia. It is speculated by people in the know that the ultimate plan is to impose visitor fees at the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.


1997 Plans are being considered for development of the mall area, which includes moving the Liberty Bell closer to Independence Hall.


Apr. 6
Tourist attacks Liberty Bell with hammer.


Mar. 24
The new Liberty Bell Center (see 1997 - 2 above) comes under a blistering attack when it is revealed that the President's House in Philadelphia, used by Washington and Adams from 1790-1800, had slave quarters right where the entrance to the new Liberty Bell Center would be in the redesign.


May 13
Historians meet to discuss the proposed Liberty Bell Center, the President's House, and the issue of slavery at the site.



Liberty Bell Trivia

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Copyright © 1998-2002 by the Independence Hall Association

- Bibliography

  1. Venerable Relic: The Story of the Liberty Bell by David Kimball, 1989, Eastern National Park & Monument Association, Philadelphia, PA

  2. Loud and Clear: The Story of Our Liberty Bell by Harold V.B. Boorhis and Ronald E. Heaton, 1970, Ronald E. Heaton, Norristown, PA

  3. The Independence Square Neighborhood 1926, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, Philadelphia, PA


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