The Making of the Liberty Bell
In November 1751, the Pennsylvania Assembly ordered the Liberty Bell to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of William Penn’s Charter of Privileges. The Charter of Privileges outlines those freedoms that are valued by people all over the world.
Members of the Pennsylvania Assembly sent a letter to Robert Charles, the Colonial Agent of the Province of Pennsylvania who was working in London. The bell was ordered from Whitechapel Foundry with instructions to inscribe on it the following passage from Leviticus in the Bible:
“Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
The words preceding “proclaim Liberty” in this verse are “and ye shall hallow [value] the fiftieth year.” Thus this was an appropriate passage to inscribe for the 50th anniversary of The Charter of Privileges.
Even though the Bell was ordered in November 1751, it did not arrive in Philadelphia until September 1st 1752 and was not hung until March 10, 1753. As soon as they hung the Bell, the members of the State Assembly noticed a rather unfortunate flaw. Isaac Norris, one of the members who had signed the letter ordering the bell, wrote:
“I had the mortification to hear that it was cracked by a stroke of the clapper without any other viollence (sic) as it was hung up to try the sound.”
The cause of the crack in the Bell may have been from a flaw in its casting or, as they thought at the time, to the material itself being too brittle. In any event, the Assembly gave two Philadelphia foundry workers named John Pass and John Stow the cracked bell to melt down and re-cast. They added an ounce and half of copper to a pound of the bell in order to make it less brittle.
The new bell was raised in the belfry on March 29, 1753. Unfortunately, this time the tone was the problem. Isaac Norris wrote that “Upon trial, it seems they have added too much copper.” Pass and Stow went back to the drawing board to once again melt down and recast the Great Bell. On June 11, 1753, the Great Bell was hung in the Statehouse Steeple and rung without issue. However, Norris was still displeased with the tone of the bell and wrote to London requesting a new bell be made.
Once the new bell arrived, the members of the State Assembly were disappointed to learn that it sounded no better than the Bell that Pass and Stow had recast. So the “Liberty Bell” remained in the Statehouse Steeple while the new Whitechapel bell was hung in the State House roof and attached to the clock to sound the hours.
Sounding the call for Freedom: the Liberty Bell’s place in History
After it was first hung, the Liberty Bell was used to call the State Assembly together and to summon people to gather for special events. Among the more important events for which the Bell was rung were when Benjamin Franklin was sent to England to address Colonial grievances (complaints) and when the people of Philadelphia were called together to discuss the Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765. Most importantly the Bell tolled for the First Continental Congress in 1774 and the Battle of Lexington and Concord during the American Revolution in 1775. Legend has it that the Bell also tolled for the reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but by this time the steeple was in bad condition so historians believe that this was probably not true.
Years later, after the Civil War that had so divided the country, the Liberty Bell was brought out for a tour throughout the nation, “proclaiming liberty” and inspiring the cause of freedom from East Coast to West Coast. In 1915, a replica of the Liberty Bell was made to promote the cause of Women’s Suffrage. The Bell’s clapper was strapped to its side, meaning that the bell would remain silent until women gained the right to vote.
The Bell in the Modern Day
In October 2003, the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia opened to the public. From the Center’s Southern end, the Bell is visible from the street 24 hours a day. Every Fourth of July, the descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence tap the bell 13 times in honor of the 13 original colonies. Each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Bell is also gently tapped. This ceremony was begun in 1986 at the request of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King.
Liberty Bell Fun Facts
- The Liberty Bell weighs 2,080 pounds. The yoke weighs 100 pounds
- From lip to crown, the Bell measures three feet. The circumference around the crown measures six feet, 11 inches, and the circumference around the lip measures 12 feet.
- The original cost of the Liberty Bell was around 150£
- The Bell is composed of 70 percent copper, 25 percent tin, and traces of lead, zinc, arsenic, gold, and silver. The Bell is suspended from what is believed to be its original yoke, made from American Elm
- The strike note of the Bell is E-Flat