Liberty Cast and Recast
The Liberty Bell, an iconic symbol of American independence, was cast in 1752 and recast in 1753. This cracked bell is an apt symbol of the fragility of liberty and its casting and recastings speak to the importance of experience and what can happen in its absence.
This is a collection of stories, photos, and videos about the bell (and its many copies) below as a celebration for July 4th. We hope you enjoy this stroll through its early history all the way through its power in freeing the slaves, women's right to vote, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Philadelphia's city bell had been used to alert the public to proclamations or civic danger since the city's 1682 founding. 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, with a bell tower being built in the Pennsylvania State House, civic authorities sought a bell of better quality, which could be heard at a greater distance in the rapidly expanding city. Isaac Norris, speaker of the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, gave orders to the colony's London agent, Robert Charles, to obtain a "good Bell of about two thousands pound weight".
We hope and rely on thy care and assistance in this affair and that thou wilt procure and forward it by the first good oppo as our workmen inform us it will be much less trouble to hang the Bell before their Scaffolds are struck from the Building where we intend to place it which will not be done 'till the end of next Summer or beginning of the Fall. Let the bell be cast by the best workmen & examined carefully before it is Shipped with the following words well shaped around it vizt. By Order of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania for the State house in the City of Philada 1752
Proclaim Liberty thro' all the Land to all the Inhabitants thereof.-Levit. XXV. 10.
Charles duly ordered the bell from Thomas Lester of the London bellfounding firm of Lester and Pack (today the Whitechapel Bell Foundry). It arrived in Philadelphia in August 1752. Norris wrote to Charles that the bell was in good order, but they had not yet sounded it, as they were building a clock for the State House's tower.
The bell was mounted on a stand to test the sound, and at the first strike of the clapper, the bell's rim cracked. The episode would be used to good account in later stories of the bell; in 1893, President Benjamin Harrison, speaking as the bell passed through Indianapolis, stated, "This old bell was made in England, but it had to be re-cast in America before it was attuned to proclaim the right of self-government and the equal rights of men." Philadelphia authorities tried to return it by ship, but the master of the vessel which had brought it was unable to take it on board.
Two local founders, John Pass and John Stow, offered to recast the bell. Though they were inexperienced in bell casting, Pass had headed the Mount Holly Iron Foundry in neighboring New Jersey and came from Malta, which had a tradition of bell casting. Stow, on the other hand, was only four years out of his apprenticeship as a brass founder. At Stow's foundry on Second Street, the bell was broken into small pieces, melted down, and cast into a new bell. The two founders decided that the metal was too brittle, and augmented the bell metal by about ten percent, using copper. The bell was ready in March 1753, and Norris reported that the lettering (which included the founders' names and the year) was even clearer on the new bell than on the old.
City officials scheduled a public celebration with free food and drink for the testing of the recast bell. When the bell was struck, it did not break, but the sound produced was described by one hearer as like two coal scuttles being banged together. Mocked by the crowd, Pass and Stow hastily took the bell away and again recast it. When the fruit of the two founders' renewed efforts was brought forth in June 1753, the sound was deemed satisfactory, though Norris indicated that he did not personally like it. The bell was hung in the steeple of the State House the same month. Wikipedia
Dissatisfied with the bell, Norris instructed Charles to order a second one, and see if Lester and Pack would take back the first bell and credit the value of the metal towards the bill. In 1754, the Assembly decided to keep both bells; the new one was attached to the tower clock while the old bell was, by vote of the Assembly, devoted "to such Uses as this House may hereafter appoint." The Pass and Stow bell was used to summon the Assembly. One of the earliest documented mentions of the bell's use is in a letter from Benjamin Franklin to Catherine Ray dated October 16, 1755: "Adieu. The Bell rings, and I must go among the Grave ones, and talk Politiks."
Placed on an upper floor of the State House, the bell was rung in the early years of independence on the Fourth of July and on Washington's birthday, as well as on Election Day to remind voters to hand in their ballots. It also rang to call students at theUniversity of Pennsylvania to their classes at nearby Philosophical Hall. Until 1799, when the state capital was moved to Lancaster, it again rang to summon legislators into session. When Pennsylvania, having no further use for its State House, proposed to tear it down and sell the land for building lots, the City of Philadelphia purchased the land, together with the building, including the bell, for $70,000, equal to $987,824 today. In 1828, the city sold the second Lester and Pack bell to St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church, which was burned down by an anti-Catholic mob in the Philadelphia Nativist Riots of 1844. The remains of the bell were recast; the new bell is now located at Villanova University. Wikipedia
It is uncertain how the bell came to be cracked; the damage occurred sometime between 1817 and 1846. The bell is mentioned in a number of newspaper articles during that time; no mention of a crack can be found until 1846. In fact, in 1837, the bell was depicted in an anti-slavery publication—uncracked. In February 1846, The Public Ledger reported that the bell had been rung in 1846 in celebration of Washington's Birthday, and also reported that the bell had long been cracked, but had been "put in order" by having the sides of the crack filed. The paper reported that around noon, it was discovered that the ringing had caused the crack to be greatly extended, and that "the old Independence Bell...now hangs in the great city steeple irreparably cracked and forever dumb".
The most common story about the cracking of the bell is that it happened when the bell was rung upon the 1835 death of the Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall. This story originated in 1876, when the volunteer curator of Independence Hall, Colonel Frank Etting, announced that he had ascertained the truth of the story. While there is little evidence to support this view, it has been widely accepted and taught. Other claims regarding the crack in the bell include stories that it was damaged while welcoming Lafayette on his return to the United States in 1824, that it cracked announcing the passing of the British Catholic Relief Act of 1829, and that some boys had been invited to ring the bell, and inadvertently damaged it. David Kimball, in his book compiled for the National Park Service, suggests that it most likely cracked sometime between 1841 and 1845, either on the Fourth of July or on Washington's Birthday. Wikipedia
Harnessing the Power of the Liberty Bell's Symbolism
The Liberty Bell quickly became symbolic of American values and its symbolism has been reimagined and applied to a wide range of causes from the anti-slavery movement to women's suffrage. Here are a few historically significant applications:
The Pass and Stow bell was first termed "the Liberty Bell" in the New York Anti-Slavery Society's journal, Anti-Slavery Record. In an 1835 piece, "The Liberty Bell", Philadelphians were castigated for not doing more for the abolitionist cause. Two years later, in another work of that society, the journal Liberty featured an image of the bell as its frontispiece, with the words "Proclaim Liberty". In 1839, Boston's Friends of Liberty, another abolitionist group, titled their journal The Liberty Bell. The same year, William Lloyd Garrison's anti-slavery publication, The Liberator, reprinted a Boston abolitionist pamphlet containing a poem entitled "The Liberty Bell", which noted that, at that time, despite its inscription, the bell did not proclaim liberty to all the inhabitants of the land. Wikipedia
In 1876, Philadelphia city officials discussed what role The Liberty Bell should play in the nation's Centennial festivities. Some wanted to repair it so it could sound at the Centennial Exposition being held in Philadelphia, but the idea was not adopted; the bell's custodians concluded that it was unlikely that the metal could be made into a bell which would have a pleasant sound, and that the crack had become part of the bell's character.
Instead, a replica weighing 13,000 pounds (5,900 kg) (1,000 pounds for each of the original states) was cast. The metal used for what was dubbed "the Centennial Bell" included four melted-down cannons: one used by each side in the American Revolutionary War, and one used by each side in the Civil War. That bell was sounded at the Exposition grounds on July 4, 1876, was later recast to improve the sound, and today is the bell attached to the clock in the steeple of Independence Hall. Wikipedia
Harnessing the power and symbolism of The Liberty Bell, a suffragette named Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger commissioned a replica of The Liberty Bell in 1915. Dubbed "The Justice Bell" its inscription reads:
Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof
Meneeley Bell Co
The Justice Bell does not a have a crack and the words, "establish JUSTICE" were added on the top line of the inscription. As a symbol of how women were being silenced, the bell's clapper was chained to the side of the bell until women were permitted to vote.
The bell went on 5,000 mile tour In 1915, visiting all 67 Pennsylvania counties, on the bed of a modified pick-up truck. The truck also carried a sign with the slogan of the suffragist moment: "Votes for Women", a phrase coined by Mark Twain as the title of his famous speech in 1901. The Justice Bell was met by large crowds, marching bands, and parades everywhere it went. The reception was particularly notable in large cities such as New York City and Philadelphia, PA. On October 22, 1915, the bell was welcomed to Philadelphia, joining in a parade of 8000 people, witnessed by a crowd of 100,000 people. Wikipedia
Another famous cast bell based on The Liberty Bell can't be overlooked simply due to its massive size. The 1926 Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition was marked by the 80-foot tall "Luminous Liberty Bell" spanning Broad Street (at Johnson St), Philadelphia, PA. It was cast and built in 47 days by Frank C. English & Sons in April-May, 1926, at a cost of $100,000. The bell was illuminated with 26,000 15-watt light bulbs set at six-inch centers and eight 200-watt projectors in the clapper. The structure contained 80 tons of steel resting on a foundation of 30-foot wooden pilings with a cast concrete capping. Wikimedia Commons
(Austin, E.L. and Odell Hauser. "The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition". Philadelphia: Current Publications, Inc. 1929, p. 67)
On March 13, 1965, twenty-five civil rights protestors participated in a sit-in around The Liberty Bell in Independence Hall. They were attempting to draw attention to the need for the federal government to protect the rights of African Americans in Selma, Alabama.
July 4th is a good day to reflect on the idea of "Liberty and Justice for All"
Obviously, the American experiment is a work in progress, but we hold our patriotism dear and hope that the aspirational values embodied in these cast bells that represent the best in America continue to define us as a nation.