At a meeting of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania on or about November 1st, 1751, the Superintendents (Isaac Norris, Thomas Leech and Edward Warner), were instructed to procure a bell of about 2,000 lbs. weight from England. This instruction laid down the prophetic inscription that was to be placed on the bell and stipulated that it should be delivered before the scaffolding around the building in which it was to be hung, was struck at the end of the following summer. Thomas Lester of this Foundry and in these same premises was the Founder chosen, and in September 1752, the bell is recorded as having come ashore in good order. A report dated March 1753 states that after hanging, it became cracked at the first stroke. They endeavoured to return it to England by the same ship, but the Master of the vessel was unable to take it on board. Thereupon, two “ingenious” workmen, Pass and Stow, both of Philadelphia, undertook to recast it. On breaking up Lester’s bell, they pronounced it too brittle and modified the alloy by adding 1½ oz. of copper to every 1 lb. of Lester’s bell.
They did not appreciate that bell metal is brittle, and relies on this to a great extent for its freedom of tone. They made a new casting which was not successful and, in their second recasting – having learnt the lesson – they restored the correct balance of metal and this is the bell that now hangs in the Liberty Bell Center, directly across from an earlier home, Independence Hall.
Later in 1753 some further dissatisfaction was expressed and negotiations were made with Thomas Lester to recast it for a charge of 2d. per lb. This, however, never materialised and Pass and Stow’s second recasting was finally hung in the State House Steeple.
With the threat of British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777, the State House Bell (Liberty Bell) and other bells were hastily removed from the City to prevent their falling into British hands and being made into cannon. Taken to Allentown, the bell was hidden in the Zion Reform Church for almost a year and was returned to Philadelphia in the summer of 1778 upon the withdrawal of the British.
There are conflicting stories as to the causes of the present bell becoming cracked:
One is that it cracked in 1835 while being tolled on the death of Chief Justice John Marshall of Virginia, and that in 1846 an attempt was made to restore the bell’s tone by supporting the sides of the fracture, but this was to no avail. The story goes that it was tolled for the last time for Washington’s birthday for, by then, the cracks had begun to spread.
Another story which gives more detail appeared in the Reading Eagle in 1911 and was told to the reporter by Emmanuel Joseph Rauch who was then about 86 years of age. He told how, when he was 10 years old in 1835, he was one day passing State House Square when the Steeple Keeper – whose name was Downing – called after him and several other boys, inviting them to ring the bell in honour of Washington’s birthday. Downing tied a rope to the clapper of the bell and, thrusting the end of the rope into the hands of the eager boys, instructed them to pull with all their might. After 10 or 12 strokes, there was a change in the tone of the bell which Downing noticed as well and, after climbing into the steeple, found a crack 12″ to 15″ long, whereupon the boys were told to run along home.
Which of these two stories is true we may never know, but the fact remains that the principal crack is in line with the swing of the clapper and it is an established fact that many bells have been cracked by the improper operation of the clapper in this way.
Good bell metal is extremely brittle: metal up to 1″ in thickness can be broken in the palm of the hand by a sharp tap with a 2 lb. hammer. If a bell is struck and not allowed to ring freely, because either the clapper or some part of the frame or fittings are in contact with the bell, then a crack can very easily develop.
The Whitechapel Foundry’s connection with the Liberty Bell was reestablished in 1976, the year of the US Bicentennial. First, there was a group of about thirty or so ‘demonstrators’ from the Procrastinators Society of America who mounted a mock protest over the bell’s defects and who marched up and down outside the Foundry with placards proclaiming WE GOT A LEMON and WHAT ABOUT THE WARRANTY?. We told them we would be happy to replace the bell – as long as it was returned to us in its original packaging. Concurrently (ie. from about 1968 to 1976) we also produced around fifteen full-size, twenty four hundred one-fifth size, and two hundred one-ninth size replicas of the bell for the Boston-based Limited Editions Collectors Society of America Inc. Finally, and most pleasingly, Whitechapel was also commissioned to cast the 12,446lb Bicentennial Bell that year, which now resides in Philadelphia with its illustrious predecessor and which bears the inscription:
FROM THE PEOPLE OF BRITAIN
4 JULY 1976
LET FREEDOM RING