10 Resonant Facts About the Liberty Bell
It's impossible to talk about American icons without mentioning the Liberty Bell. The one-ton artifact has been present for some of the most important events in United States history, and it's served as a symbol of hope through the nation's darkest times. Here are a few facts worth knowing about the most famous bell in the country.
1. IT CRACKED ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.
The first crack that silenced the Liberty Bell has been largely forgotten. In 1751, Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly Isaac Norris commissioned a bell for the tower of the Pennsylvania State House (a.k.a. Independence Hall). But that first version wasn’t around for long: It cracked on the very first test ring. The bell was melted down, recast, and installed as the State House bell that structured the daily schedules of Benjamin Franklin and other important political figures.
2. IT RANG TO MARK THE STAMP ACT’S REPEAL ...
The State House bell typically signaled the start of Pennsylvania Assembly meetings or the reading of the news, but it also marked significant events. In 1756, it rang out in protest of the British Parliament’s passage of the Stamp Act, and in 1766 it recognized the tax’s repeal.
3. ... BUT IT PROBABLY DIDN’T RING ON INDEPENDENCE DAY.
According to legend, a boy visited an old man in the State House bell tower on July 4, 1776 with an important message: The Declaration of Independence had just been signed. The story goes that the elderly tower keeper rang the bell that day to signal the news, but this likely never happened. The signing of the Declaration wasn’t publicly celebrated until July 8. So where did the story of the messenger boy and the old bell ringer come from? The mid-19th century writer George Lippard invented the tale for a children’s book called Legends of the American Revolution.
4. IT HAS A BIBLICAL INSCRIPTION.
The inscription wrapped around the top of the bell reads: “Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof.” The quote is from Leviticus 25:10 in the Bible, and it’s part of instructions to the Israelites to return property and free slaves every 50 years.
5. IT BECAME AN ABOLITIONIST SYMBOL.
As the anti-slavery movement gained steam in the 19th century, these words developed a deeper meaning. Abolitionists saw the cause they were fighting for reflected in the inscription. The bell became a symbol of freedom for all people, and in 1835 the publication The Anti-Slavery Record referred to it as the Liberty Bell in print for the first time.
6. THE CRACK WAS WIDENED ON PURPOSE.
The Liberty Bell’s crack makes it instantly recognizable, but if it had been left alone it wouldn’t look nearly as dramatic. After ringing for decades, a thin crack formed in the bell in the 1840s. Metalworkers “repaired” the fissure in 1846 by widening it and inserting bolts at both ends. This way, the split metal wouldn’t bang together when rung, which would hopefully prevent the crack from growing.
7. THERE’S A SECOND, WORSE CRACK THAT’S BARELY VISIBLE.
The repair job didn’t end up doing the bell much good. When the bell was rung on George Washington’s birthday in 1846, a second crack formed across the crown, extending from the abbreviation for “Philadelphia” up to the word “Liberty.” It’s just a hairline fracture, barely visible next to the widened crack, but it forced the bell into retirement.
8. IT TOURED THE COUNTRY.
The new crack meant the Liberty Bell was unable to serve its original purpose, but it was still put to good use. The bell traveled to expositions and fairs across the country from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, making stops in small towns and major cities. Some of the more influential figures to catch it on tour included Thomas Edison and former confederate president Jefferson Davis. During its famous 10,000-mile trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco, it’s estimated that one-quarter of the country’s 1915 population caught a glimpse of the bell.
9. IT’S STILL TAPPED OCCASIONALLY.
The Liberty Bell hasn’t been rung since it formed its fateful crack in 1846, but it has been lightly tapped many times since then. During World War II, it was tapped to mark D-Day, V-E Day, and V-J Day. Today it’s an annual tradition for a group of young descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence to tap the bell 13 times on July 4.
10. YOU CAN HEAR WHAT IT PROBABLY SOUNDED LIKE.
Even though no one alive today has heard the Liberty Bell ring, we still have a good idea of what it sounded like. In 1999, graduate students at Pennsylvania State University recreated the bell as a computer model. With this digital replica they were able to calculate the specific vibrations the bell would have made when struck. They even made this data into a playable audio clip: You can listen to the results here.