There are various symbols in the United States that represent our basic national ideals, and the Liberty Bell is one of them. While most Americans have a sense for what the Liberty Bell is, many don’t know the history behind it, or why it is even significant in the first place. In fact, many seem to only know about the bell’s well-known crack. If you’re curious to know who cracked the Liberty Bell, we’ll get to that, but let’s also explore some of the history behind this iconic symbol of freedom.
History of the Liberty Bell
Philadelphia had used a city bell to alert the public of proclamations or civic danger since the city was founded in 1682. The bell was hung from a tree behind the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall). According to legend, it was brought to the city by founder William Penn.
In 1751, construction of a bell tower in the Pennsylvania State House had started. Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly Isaac Norris ordered a new bell for the tower, one that was of good quality and that could be heard over greater distances than the original.
The bell was created in Whitechapel Foundry in London, and it arrived in Pennsylvania on September 1, 1752. At nearly 12 feet wide and weighing roughly 2,000 lbs., the bell featured several inscriptions, including:
- “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10)
- “By Order of the Assembly of the Province of Pensylvania for the State House in Philada”
- “Pass and Stow / Philada / MDCCLIII”
Who Cracked the Liberty Bell?
The Liberty Bell was hung in 1752, and ironically, cracked on its very first test ring. Local metalworkers John Pass and John Stow, whose last names appear on the bell, had to recast the bell on two separate occasions before it was finally operational in 1753.
As for the new crack that would develop–no one ever recorded how or when it appeared, but theories abound. Some say it cracked in 1824, when Marquis de Lafayette, a Revolutionary War hero, was visiting. Others claim it happened that same year, but while signaling a fire.
We do know that by the early 1840s, after nearly 90 years of routine usage, the crack had formed. In 1846, the city of Philadelphia decided to repair the bell prior to George Washington’s Birthday. However, the only way to ensure the crack would not continue to grow was to actually widen it manually, using a technique called “stop drilling”. So that wide, iconic crack you see in the Liberty Bell is actually a repair.
Sadly, this fix was not successful, and a second, less visible crack has since developed on the bell. Today, the Liberty Bell remains silent as a result.
Purpose of the Liberty Bell
Much like the original bell that hung behind the Pennsylvania State House, the purpose of the Liberty Bell was to summon townsfolk together for events and announcements. And the bell rang frequently.
The bell was rung when Benjamin Franklin went to England to share colonial grievances. It rang in 1761 when King George III took the throne. It rang in 1764 so the people could discuss the Sugar Act, and in 1765 to discuss the Stamp Act.
Interestingly, despite the popular myth many of us grew up learning, the bell did not ring on July 4th, 1776 (at least not in connection with the Declaration of Independence).
The Liberty Bell as an Icon
Many Americans today would probably believe that the Liberty Bell was closely tied to the American Revolutionary War, but that isn’t really the case. While use of the bell during that era was widespread, its association with freedom actually came much later.
It would be abolitionists, inspired by the message inscribed on it, who would use the bell as a symbol of freedom. In fact, the name “Liberty Bell” wasn’t coined until 1835, when the The Anti-Slavery Record, an abolitionist newspaper, first referred to the bell as such. After the American Civil War, the Liberty Bell began to travel across the country, reminding the recovering nation we all fought together for our independence.
Today, the Liberty Bell is still viewed as a symbol of freedom. It is housed at the Liberty Bell Center in Independence National Historical Park, and millions of visitors check it out every year. For many, the inscription on the bell remains just as significant today: “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”.