A Bell’s Farewell Tour

Cast Iron Liberty Bell Bookends (LEO Design)

On this day in 1915, Philadelphia’s famous “Liberty Bell” set-out on its last tour.  More about this later…

The bell was cast in London in 1752 by Lester & Reed, a bell foundry.  It arrived in Philly that August and, as the steeple was not yet finished, the bell was hung on a small scaffold to be tested—and, upon its first strike, it promptly cracked.  The city attempted to return it to England but the ship’s captain (who had brought it) refused to take it back.  A pair of foundrymen, inexperienced with bell-making, nevertheless were hired to break-up the bell, melt the metal, and re-cast the bell anew.  To correct the bell’s brittle nature, they added extra copper to the alloy.  The second bell was unveiled to a large gathering, enticed with free food and drink.  The people commented that the new bell looked even better than the first one.  They also commented that the bell sounded like two brass coal scuttles being clanged together!  Embarrassed, the two foundrymen hurriedly re-cast the bell again.  This time, unveiled in June of 1753, the bell’s ring was deemed adequate for the job—though many still did not like the sound.

It was installed in the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House (since re-named “Independence Hall”) and would be rung to call lawmakers to session or to alert city residents if a proclamation was to be read.

Despite urban legend to the contrary, the Liberty Bell was not rung on the first Independence Day (4 July 1776).  True, on that day the Second Continental Congress voted to declare independence from England, but no formal announcement was proclaimed that day.  Four days later, on 8 July, the city’s bells were rung (probably including the Statehouse bell) and the Declaration of Independence was read to the crowd.

For several decades, the bell fell into obscurity, considered neither famous nor important. In the 1830’s, abolitionists appropriated the bell as a symbol of freedom.  It was at this point that it was first referred to as the “Liberty Bell.”  As the bell’s iconic status grew, the bell was sent to other cities to help celebrate important occasions. Its final “tour” was begun on 5 July 1915 when it was set on a train for San Francisco’s “Panama-Pacific International Exposition” (to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal).  It would be the first (and last) time the bell crossed the Mississippi).  As it travelled across the continent, over 5 million people saw the bell en route.  At the Exposition, over 2 million people kissed the bell.  Millions more viewed it.  The bell was gently rung (with wooden mallets) to open the fair and to inaugurate the first trans-continental telephone line, specially laid for the event.

Years of touring had taken its toll on the poor bell.  Not only had the crack lengthened during its travelling, but the bell continued to lose weight as souvenir hunters broke-off pieces of the bell’s metal.  After the Liberty Bell’s return from California, its owners (the city of Philadelphia) decided they would not allow the bell to travel again.

The pair of bookends, pictured above, are from the 1920’s or 1930’s.  Unlike the original bell, these are suitable for travel—and we’d be happy to ship them to you.  Please click on the photo to learn more about them.

LEO Design will be open daily throughout the holiday weekend — Noon ’til 6:00 Friday through Sunday.