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What is the Liberty Bell?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Liberty Bell is a large bronze bell which has become an important symbol to many Americans, thanks to the fact that it has been around longer than the United States itself. The Liberty Bell has been associated with a number of important events in American history, including the War of Independence and the Civil War. People who wish to see the Liberty Bell can visit its hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the bell is displayed in a specially designed rotunda.

This bell is perhaps most famous for the large crack which runs up one side of the bell. The history of the crack is quite lengthy, as the bell was actually cracked and repaired several times, but the irreparable crack appears to have emerged in the mid-1800s, and it was actually expanded accidentally during efforts to repair the bell. Works of art which feature the Liberty Bell typically show the crack, since it has become so famous.

The original Liberty Bell was ordered in 1751 to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of William Penn's charter, the first constitution of Pennsylvania. The bell was ordered from a British foundry, and was initially known as the State House Bell, with the city intending to ring it on various occasions. However, the first bell was badly cracked, and it was melted down and recast almost immediately. After a second attempt to recast the bell in 1753, the city actually ordered a new bell, which was no better, so they ended up sticking with the original State House Bell.

Members of the surrounding community often complained about the ringing of the bell, but by the late 1700s, the bell and its steeple were so badly deteriorated that it is unlikely the bell was rung very often. When the major crack appeared in 1846, the bell was only rung symbolically, but it had entered the American consciousness. The Abolitionist movement of the 1800s took advantage of the State House Bell, turning it into a symbol of their fight for freedom, and re-naming it the Liberty Bell. After the Civil War, the Liberty Bell went on tour around the United States, until it was involved in a train accident and the city of Philadelphia decided to keep it at home.

The Liberty Bell weighs over a ton, and when rung, it sounds an E-flat note. When the bell is rung today, it is usually lightly struck with hammers, rather than rung with a clapper, to avoid more damage to the bell. Visitors to the bell can read the inscription “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” from Leviticus. The Liberty Bell is also stamped with “ By Order of the Assembly of the Province of Pensylvania for the State House in Philada” as well as the names “Pass and Stow,” the recasters of the bell. You may note that “Pennsylvania” is misspelled on the bell; the spelling of the state's name was not in fact consistent until the late 1800s.

Philadelphia also houses the Centennial Bell, a gift given to the city in 1876, along with the Bicentennial Bell, a gift from Queen Elizabeth II given to the city in 1976. The Bicentennial Bell was cast in the same foundry as the original Liberty Bell. It is also possible to see replicas of the Liberty Bell on display in various locations around the United States.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon110312 — On Sep 11, 2010

very informative.

By screenwriter — On Jan 31, 2009

Thanks for this History Lesson. Accounting for all the troubles and difficulties this poor bronze bell has had to endure it's no wonder it serves as an inspiration for so many of us!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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