Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell is an American bell, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Its importance is largely based on mythologizing: a fictional story written by George Lippard in 1847 about an old bellman ringing the bell at the moment the Continental Congress declared independence has become the basis for patriotic lessons taught in elementary schools across the nation. It may perhaps be true that the bell was rung on July 8, 1776 to summon citizens for the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence, but it was not called the Liberty Bell until 1837, when it became a symbol of the abolitionist movement because of its cast inscription from Leviticus 25:10: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof". The "Liberty" for which the bell was named is thus liberty for the enslaved Africans and not for the colonists of America. The bell is 70% copper, 25% tin, and contains other trace metals. It has a 12 foot circumference.

The bell received its first crack in March 1753, the first time it was rung. It was originally cast in 1752 by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, for use in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall). The bell had been ordered the previous year by the Pennsylvania Assembly, and the inscription from Leviticus was possibly intended to mark the 50th anniversary of William Penn's Charter of Privileges of 1701. After its initial cracking, the bell was recast by John Pass and John Stow of Philadelphia, whose surnames also appear inscribed on the bell. When the tone of the recast bell proved unsatisfactory, Pass and Stow recast the bell again, and this third bell was hung in the steeple of the State House in June 1753. The bell was used to summons members of the Assembly to meetings. It remained in the tower through the start of the American Revolutionary War, when the Second Continental Congress used the building for its deliberations in 1775-76.

The exact date of the famous crack in the bell is unknown, but it was repaired in February 1846 and put back into service. The method of repair, known as stop drilling, required drilling along the hairline crack so that the sides of the fracture would not reverberate. When the bell was rung that month in honor of George Washington's birthday, the crack extended from the top of the repaired crack to the crown of the bell, rendering the bell unusable.

From the 1880s through the early decades of the 20th century, the Liberty Bell traveled to numerous cities and was displayed at expositions and world's fairs. For many years, the bell was housed in the stairwell of Independence Hall where visitors could view it while touring the historic building. On January 1, 1976, the bell was transported from Independence Hall to a glass pavilion located one block north, in anticipation of increased visitation during the bicentennial year of American independence, but the unadorned pavilion proved unpopular with many.

In October 2003, the bell was moved a short distance to the southwest to a new pavilion, the Liberty Bell Center. There was some controversy about the site chosen for the new structure, which was just to the south of the site of where George Washington had lived in the 1790s. After the initial planning, the building's site was found to be adjacent to the quarters for the slaves owned by Washington. The decision over how to acknowledge this fact in the display has led to some debate.

The Liberty Bell Center, with its storied bell, and nearby Independence Hall are part of Independence National Historical Park, administered by the National Park Service.

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