The Arrival of the First Liberty Bell in Philly Was Only the Beginning
When the first Liberty Bell arrived in Philadelphia on September 1, 1752, nobody could have imagined what would happen next, nor what would happen after that.
Before the great Bell went up on March 10 of the following year, foundry workers would melt and recast the bell twice, authorities would try to replace it, then change their mind, only to drive the locals crazy with all the bell tolling.
No wonder the great Bell doesn’t do more than pose for Instagram photos theses days. It turns out being a perfect bell isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
When the Liberty Bell arrived, the United States was yet a collection of colonies belonging to Britain. Most of the black population and many native people lived as slaves.
There was nothing “liberty” about the colonies at that time. In fact, the bell wasn’t even known as Liberty, not yet.
They called is the state house bell, as that’s where it would live. Today the State House is Independence Hall. When they built it, the first Philadelphians included a steeple, which begged for a bell.
It wasn’t until much later that the bell came to mean something more.
The first one rolled down the streets of Philadelphia, ordered from Whitechapel Foundry in London, the same folks who made Big Ben. This was no small bell foundry operation either. Whitechapel still makes bells in London to this day.
When the good people of Philadelphia first tested the Bell, it cracked. They thought the metal too brittle, but it may have been flaws in the casting, who know?
A cracked bell wouldn’t do, so the people of Philadelphia handed it to two local foundry boys, John Pass and John Stow. The two Johns melted it down, then recast it with more copper.
That bell went up in the tower on March 29, 1953, but nobody liked the sound of it so they took it down again.
The John’s broke it up, then recast the bell a second time. But, nobody liked the sound of the third Bell either so they ordered a new one from Whitechapel.
When it arrived, the people of Philly agreed it sounded no better than the one they had already, so they found a home for the new bell and left the original Liberty Bell… well, the third original.
When the great Bell first rang in an official capacity, it was to bring people together. It tolled mostly when there was news, but never did it ring for liberty.
In fact, when the British stormed Philadelphia in October 1777, someone hid the massive bell in the floorboards of a local church. The British would have melted it down to forge cannons, munitions they would have fired at uprising colonists.
From 1790 to 1800, Philadelphia was the capital of the United States. The Liberty Bell went back up and rang again for years.
It rang to call the Legislature into session. It rang to call voters into action. It rang to commemorate holidays and the birthdays of national heroes. It rang until it couldn’t ring anymore.
So why Liberty? Abolitionists adopted the great Bell as a symbol in the 1800s. It was they who named it Liberty. The name stuck.
And the crack? Historian debate the origins of the crack. The final blow was on Washington’s birthday in 1846, rendering it silent forever.
The fight for liberty, however, still tolls.