The Liberty Bell is Philadelphia’s most celebrated icon and is considered one of the world’s sacred relics. Cast in 1753, and originally known as the State House Bell, it has always symbolized liberty and patriotism — from America’s founding principles of civil and religious freedom to anti-slavery and women’s rights. For more than 90 years, the bell tolled frequently to summon the State Assembly, gather Philadelphians for important announcements and town meetings, celebrate the Fourth of July, commemorate George Washington’s birthday, and mourn the passing of America’s earliest leaders. After nearly a century of continuous use, a fatal crack silenced the bell forever. Although it would no longer ring, it did not rest. Following the Civil War, the bell traveled across the United States for the next 30 years. It was a messenger of peace — the crack became a metaphor for unification and healing. People en masse came out to see, touch, and kiss the bell.
American historian Gary B. Nash wrote of this time, “The bell had accepted the laurels of an entire generation of Americans, and the nation’s school children had been taught — in poems, songs, and schoolbook stories — to revere the bell — a bell that belonged to everybody…there was hardly a sensate American who did not know about the Liberty Bell.”
The Liberty Bell had reached its iconic stature as a national treasure and as the world’s most famous bell. Throughout America’s history, people have gathered at the bell in celebration, in protest, and to remember days and events of the past. Its legacy of freedom continues to this day. More than 2 million people visit the bell each year and although visitors can no longer touch the bell, its presence will forever resonate the hallowed inscription:
“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants there of”
Liberty Bell on Market Street, Philadelphia, escorted to the train yard for its west coast tour, 1915. Photo: Independence National Historical Park
President John F. Kennedy with former Philadelphia Mayor James H. J. Tate at the Liberty Bell, July 4, 1962. Photo: Office of the City Representative
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet visited the Liberty Bell, 1990. Photo: Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives, Philadelphia