PHILADELPHIA — The Liberty Bell is recognizable the world over, but many of the “facts” surrounding the bell’s history are more fiction than fact.
One popular story, for example, indicates an aging bell-ringer on July 4, 1776, was awaiting word the colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. The day dragged on without word, and the ringer grew discouraged.
Suddenly, he received the good news and sounded the bell.
It’s a great story, but it almost certainly never happened; the story probably emerged circa 1847. The signing of the Declaration of Independence was officially announced a few days later, so most historians agree no bells rang July 4, 1776.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast the original version of the bell in 1752. The bell arrived in Philadelphia in August 1752 and apparently cracked soon after.
A pair of founders, John Pass and John Stow, offered to recast the bell. Despite the fact that neither was an expert in bell casting, the two broke up the bell, melted it down and recast it twice.
While history shows the improved metal conglomeration wasn’t strong enough to avoid cracking, what appears to be the large crack in the side of the bell was an attempt to fix the bell by filing the crack. The final and fatal crack, which probably dates to 1846, can be seen upon close inspection running from the word “Philada” to the word “Liberty” on the side of the bell.
A few interesting — and possible lesser known — facts about the Liberty Bell:
1. The 2,080-pound bell is 70 percent copper and 25 percent tin. It also includes arsenic, gold, silver, lead and zinc.
2. The bell, originally used to summon legislators and the public to meetings, was probably first called the Liberty Bell in the latter half of the 1830s when it was used as a symbol of abolitionists.
3. The bell’s inscription — “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” — is based on Leviticus 25:10.
4. The bell was relocated to what is present-day Allentown after George Washington’s defeat at the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777 to save it from being captured, melted down and turned into cannonballs. To keep it safe, the bell was hidden beneath the floorboards of a church; it returned to Philadelphia in June 1778.
5. The exact date of when the bell cracked is open to some debate. Some sources believe it was in 1824 during a visit by American Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette, while others indicate the bell cracked following the 1835 death of Chief Justice of the United States John Marshall. Many historians believe the bell cracked between 1841 and 1846.
6. The bell traveled the country for decades, but hasn’t left Philadelphia since 1915. Over the years, souvenir hunters damaged the bell by chipping off pieces for keepsakes.
7. The Liberty Bell moved to its current location in 2003. The American elm yoke from which the bell hangs is possibly the bell’s original yoke.
Make plans to visit the Liberty Bell in person at the National Park Service site.