Fascinating Liberty Bell Facts: More On the Unique Old City Landmark

Liberty Bell facts

View from underneath the Liberty Bell, which is pretty big, as you can tell...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bpende/3245825519/in/faves-42965801@N06/ / CC BY 3.0

Here are some interesting Liberty Bell facts, about this cherished symbol of America's commitment to liberty.


The History of the Liberty Bell - A Timeline

Before The American Revolution - 1682 - 1775

1682 - The Quaker courtier William Penn founds the colony of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia.

1701 - Penn proclaims a Charter of Privileges for the inhabitants of his proprietary colony - originally, under the terms of his charter from Britain's King Charles II, the colony was the equivalent of Penn's own private business enterprise. He could set all laws and select which settlers he wanted in Pennsylvania.

1732 - Construction on what would become the Pennsylvania State House - known to us as Independence Hall - begins.

1746 - After 14 years, the Pennsylvania State House is finally completed. While it would eventually house the Liberty Bell, it had no bell of any kind, yet.

1749 - The Pennsylvania Assembly issues the following order, for a bell, that eventually became known as the Liberty Bell:

"Ordered, that the Superintendents of the State House proceed... to carry up a Building on the South-side of the said House to contain the Staircase, with a suitable Place thereon for hanging a Bell."

1751 - At last, the Assembly finally issues an order for what would become the Liberty Bell.

1752 - Robert Charles, the colony of Pennsylvania's lobbyist (yes, they already did exist, even back then, although they were known simply as "agents") in London, receives instructions to buy a bell from Issac Norris, the Speaker of the Assembly.

An excerpt from the instructions of Norris to Charles:

Let the Bell be cast by the best Workmen & examined carefully before it is Shipped with the following words well shaped in large letters and round in vizt / By Order of the Assembly of the Province of Pensylvania (yes, he spelled it with just two "n"s, not three) for the State house in the City of Philada 1752 / and Underneath / Proclaim Liberty thro' all the Land to all the inhabitants thereof - Levit. XXV.10

The text of the relevant passage, from the biblical Book of Leviticus:

And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof.

Charles complied with his instructions. He ordered a bell from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London - which still exists, to this day. The price he paid for the bell was 150 pounds, 13 shillings, and 8 pence.

In 2008 - the most recent year for which Measuring Worth offers an inflation calculator - the bell would have cost, adjusted for inflation, 19,700 British pounds. And converted to American dollars, the Liberty Bell would have cost $36,500 in 2008.

August 1752 - The Bell, transported by the British ship Hibernia, captained by William Child, arrives in the port of Philadelphia.

September 1, 1752 - Norris writes to Charles, the lobbyist in London - "The Bell has come ashore & in good order... but we have not yet try'd the sound."

March 1753 - Things start to go wrong. Norris writes to Charles, telling him:

"I gave information that our Bell was generally like and appvd [i.e., approved] of but in a few days after my writing I had the Mortification to hear that it was cracked by a stroke of the clapper without any other violence as it was hung up to try the sound."

Later in the letter, Norris notes that "two Ingenious Work-men" had been retained to repair the bell by recasting it: Pass and Stow, whose names would later be immortalized on the Bell itself.

In a related matter, Edmund Wooley, of the Philadelphia Carpenters' Company, raises the steeple on the State House, for which he had also been the master-builder.

April 1753 - Pass and Stow attempt to fix the bell by adding more copper, but the results aren't satisfactory, as they apparently add too much of it. Norris wrote that "they were so teized [i.e., teased] by the witticisms of the Town that they... will be very soon ready to make a second essay [i.e., attempt]."

June 1753 - A newspaper to the north, the New York Mercury, printed the following:

"Last Week was raised and fix'd in the Statehouse Steeple, the new Great Bell, cast here by Pass and Stow, weighing 2080 lbs."

The bill received from Pass and Stow, for their recasting, came to just over 36 pounds; the bell weighed 2,081 pounds, according to them. (The two sets of "pounds" are not related!) According to Measuring Worth, that bill in 2008 British pounds would be 4,950; converting to 2008 U.S. dollars, the bill would be the equivalent of $9,180.

(This was an expensive repair job; the entire bill for the original bell was only $36,500, in contemporary dollars.)

November 1753 - Norris writes once more to Charles in London:

"We got our Bell new cast here and it has been used some time but tho' [though] some are of [the} opinion it will do I Own I do not like it."

to be continued...

In frustration, Norris recommends that the Bell be sent back to Whitechapel Bell Foundry, to be recast.

A Tale of Two Bells

March 1754 - Although Norris's recommendation that the Bell be sent back is not implemented, Charles decides to order another bell from Whitechapel.

May 1754 - The Pennsylvania Assembly decides to appropriate money to purchase this second bell, and keep the original, Pass and Stow one, anyhow.

Everyone is disappointed, when the second Bell arrives from England, and it doesn't sound any better than the original one. Accordingly, they leave the Pass and Stow Bell in the State House steeple. As for the second Bell, they place it in a cupola on the roof of the State House, along with its clocks. This becomes the routine bell, rung to inform Philadelphians of the time.

In contrast, the Pass and Stow bell is saved for special occasions, and not rung all of the time.

February 1757 - The Pass and Stow Bell is rung to acknowledge the Assembly meeting, which would delegate Benjamin Franklin to London, to ask for a resolution of the colony's grievances with Britain.

March 1757 - The Pennsylvania Gazette - the newspaper published by none other than Franklin, himself - reports that the Pass and Stow Bell was rung to acknowledge the arrival of Lord Loudon from New York in Pennsylvania.

February 1761 - King George III ascends to the British throne, upon the death of his father, King George II, to continue the dynasty of the House of Hanover, which was, in fact, German, and not British.

The Pass and Stow bell is rung in celebration of the accession of the young monarch, whom everyone expects to inaugurate a golden age of the British Empire. (Little did they know!)

1761 - The Assembly graciously agrees to let nearby St. Paul's Church use the Pass and Stow bell to announce services, until their own steeple is constructed and their own bell acquired.

September 1764 - The Pass and Stow Bell is rung to celebrate the repeal of the Sugar Act - resolutely opposed by the colonies - by the British Parliament.

October 1765 - The Bell is rung - although "muffled" - to spread the word that ships carrying stamps - the evidence of the hated Stamp Act - are en route to Philadelphia.

It was also rung to notify Philadelphians of a public meeting to discuss the Stamp Act and how best to deal with it.

April 1768 - The Bell is rung to assemble merchants to commiserate over more economic grievances with Britain - in this case, among other things, a ban on the manufacture of steel, as well as the making of hats.

September 1770 - The Assembly passes a resolution denouncing the latest Parliamentary legislation as a violation of the constitutional rights of the colonists.

February 1771 - Parliament has retained a tax on tea, in order to establish precedent, that it has the power to tax anything it chooses. The Bell is rung, to summon the Assembly, and it chooses to petition George III, in order to request the repeal of the tea tax.

1772 - Philadelphians living in close proximity to the Bell - which was a very large percentage of the population, as the city only had 25,000 people, all concentrated near the Delaware River - complain that the Bell is rung too often. They state that they are "commoded and distressed" by "the frequent ringing of the great Bell in the Steeple."

Christmas Day, 1773 - Nine days after the Boston Tea Party in Massachusetts, the Bell is rung to warn the populace that a British ship, the Polly, guided by Captain Ayres, laden with "monopoly" tea, was on its way to Philadelphia. The Assembly decides that under no circumstances, will Ayres be permitted to dock in the port of Philadelphia, or transport his tea to the Custom House for importation.

1774 - It was worthwhile to note that the State House Steeple needed some repairs.

June 1774 - News that Parliament has passed what became known to Americans as the Intolerable Acts, arrives from Britain. Included in the Acts are the punitive closure of the port of Boston, due to the previous year's Tea Party.

The Bell, although "muffled", is tolled to announce this news. It also rang to summon Philadelphians to a meeting, in which they pledged 4,000 pounds in support of their suffering neighbors to the north.

According to Measuring Worth, the generosity of Philadelphians was the equivalent of over 402,000 British pounds, in 2008. And in 2008 dollars, it was the equivalent of over $746,000 pledged - which is quite a sum for a city that had a population of just 25,000 people. (Granted, Philadelphia was the largest city in British North America, the second-largest city in the entire British Empire at the time, although a distant, distant second to London.)

The Bell, During the First Half of the American Revolution - 1775-1778

April 1775 - The Bell is tolled to inform Philadelphians that the initial fighting of what would become known as the American Revolution had broken out - New England militia had clashed with British troops at both Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, outside of Boston.

July 4, 1776 - Over a year after Lexington and Concord, the Second Continental Congress formally approves the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. However, the Bell did not toll that day in celebration.

Why not? Since the Declaration was dated on July 4, 1776, it was being sent to the printer, that day.

July 8, 1776 - Most famously, the Bell peals to announce the public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Or at least we think that it did so. Bells rang out all over the city, and although tradition holds that the Pass and Stow bell one did, also, we're not certain. The strongest evidence that it did not - the disrepair of the State House steeple.

September 11, 1777 - The Continental Army, commanded by General George Washington, is defeated by British forces under General Sir William Howe, in the Battle of Brandywine, a few miles outside Philadelphia. This means that Howe can now capture Philadelphia - and by taking the American capital, he believes that he has won the war.

September, 1777 - After the defeat, Philadelphians recognize that there is nothing standing between Howe and the city. Accordingly, they begin to hastily remove anything of value that the British might capture to further their war effort. Bells - made of valuable metals - are among these items, as they could be melted down and transformed into cannon.

September 23, 1777 - The State House Bell is removed from its deteriorated steeple and sent to Allentown, deep in the Pennsylvania countryside, to prevent its seizure by the British. This is done under the direction of a member of the Carpenters' Company.

Ironically, the American soldiers assigned to escort the bell to Allentown were not from Pennsylvania, or even the mid-Atlantic colonies. Instead, Colonel Thomas Polk, from North Carolina, is given the mission. He commands 200 militiamen from Virginia and North Carolina, who form the armed guard for the Bell for its journey to safety.

Once in Allentown, it is hidden in the basement of the Zion Reformed Church - which can still be visited today.

February 1778 - Word arrives in Philadelphia, that Franklin has persuaded King Louis XVI of France, to enter the war on the American side. The result is that the British know that they will be forced to evacuate Philadelphia, to protect other British possessions worldwide, against the French.

June 27, 1778 - After the British Royal Army has departed Philadelphia, the Bell is brought back from its sanctuary in Allentown. However, due to the decay of the State House steeple, it isn't rehung there, until after the war is over. The Bell would remain in storage for seven years.

To be continued...


Despite its iconic status as a national symbol, the Bell legally remains the property of the City of Philadelphia - not the National Park Service,or the federal government.

The Bell weighs about one ton - 2000 pounds - although it was originally slightly heavier, at 2080 pounds.

The Full Chemical Composition of the Liberty Bell

Its chemical composition is overwhelmingly copper. It also contains substantial tin, with lead ranking a very distant third. Those three elements comprise, at minimum, 94.25% of the Bell, and possibly 99% of it.

The small remainder, is an eclectic mix of heterogeneous elements: zinc, iron, arsenic, silver, nickel, antimony, and gold. (The fact that lead and gold are both present, is an ironic parallel to the study of alchemy, whose practitioners attempted to chemically transform lead into gold.)

For those of you, with a strong interest in chemistry and metallurgy, here are the exact percentages. They are expressed in ranges, and so are not precise figures.

Copper 64.95% - 73.10%

Tin 24.00% - 30.16%

Lead 5.30% - 5.47%

Total 94.25% - 108.73%

So, at minimum, the Bell is 94.25% copper, tin, and lead.

As for the remainder - which is, at maximum, 5.75% -

Zinc 0.25% - 1.65%

Iron 0.00% - 0.87%

Arsenic 0.19% - 0.42%

Silver 0.14% - 0.26%

Nickel 0.00% - 0.28%

Antimony 0.08% - 0.18%

Gold 0.02% - 0.06%

(Antimony, like arsenic, is also highly toxic.)

[The detailed chemical analysis of the Bell originally appeared in the book The Story of the Liberty Bell, by David Kimball.)

The Bell was originally cast at the Whitechapel Foundry in Britain, in 1752. The following year, it was recast twice in Philadelphia, by Pass and Stow.

The Bell's strike note would be an E-flat (assuming that it could still strike).

The Liberty Bell's Yoke

The Bell's wooden yoke, remarkably, is believed to be its original. It is made out of American elm, which is also known as slippery elm. The yoke weighs 200 pounds - about one/tenth the weight of the Bell which it holds.

The Crack in the Liberty Bell

It turns out, that the famous crack in the Bell, is actually a group of hairline cracks. They extend to a length of 24.5 inches, and a width of about half an inch.

The crack becomes starkly visible, between the letters P and H in PHILADa (the abbreviation for Philadelphia used on the Bell). It extends downward, between the Roman numerals M and D, in MDCLIII - which indicated the year it was recast twice, 1753. There is a bolt between the two words.

The Clapper of the Liberty Bell

The clapper weighs 44.5 pounds, and is 3 feet, 2 inches long.

The Circumference of the Liberty Bell

Around the lip, the Bell is 12 feet; around the crown, the Bell is 7 feet, 6 inches.

Other Measurements of the Liberty Bell

The Bell measures three feet, from the lip to the crown.

Its height, over the crown, is 2 feet, 3 inches.

It is three inches thick at the lip, and one and a quarter inches thick at the crown.

This, naturally, just scratches the surface of the myriad number of Liberty Bell Facts. Of course, this page is still under construction, and as the site continues to grow, more Liberty Bell Facts will be added. So please check back for more content...

A Close-Up Map of the Liberty Bell and the Surrounding Area

View The Liberty Bell in a larger map

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