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A Deep Dive into the History of the Liberty Bell

Screen Shot 2018-12-07 at 16.16.27Liberty Bell (courtesy of Pixabay)


PHILADELPHIA PA (CNBNewsnet)(December 7, 2018)--It's easy to tell if somebody grew up in Philly, as long as you know which key identifier to look out for. No, it's not an affinity for cheesesteak or a fanatic support of the Eagles. Rather, it's the inexplicable affection that Philly natives feel for a bell. It's not just any bell, of course - it's the bell that most powerfully symbolizes American history and the struggle for freedom - the Liberty Bell.

Anyone who spent time as a kid in Philadelphia will have most likely been on at least one field trip to the Liberty Bell Center, gawking at that iconic crack and listening to tour guides and teachers come up with an impressive number of causes for said crack. Chances are, if you live in Philly, you're a big fan of the bell.

With that established, let's move onto what you don't know about the most famous percussion instrument in history. Join us on our deep dive into the history of the Liberty Bell.

The Real Origin Story of the Bell

Sure, locals are keenly aware of the importance of the bell, but few people know just how significant the Liberty Bell is. It's worth clarifying first of all that, in all likelihood, the bell did not actually ring during the announcement of the Declaration of Independence, despite popular belief. According to the Liberty Bell timeline from US History, evidence has since emerged suggesting the bell was in such bad condition in 1776 that it would have been impossible for it to ring out.

That doesn't mean it's not a hugely important symbol. The Liberty Bell was center-stage for a number of hugely significant events in American history, and its impact on our culture continues to be felt. The bell was actually built in London, commissioned by the Pennsylvania Assembly with the work given to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which only shut its doors last year.

Prior to independence, the bell was rung mostly to announce the meeting of the legislature and was notably rung when Benjamin Franklin was sent off to England to discuss colonial grievances with Parliament. When Philly was occupied during the war for independence, the bell was removed from the city amid fears it would be melted down and used as munitions - it was stored in a basement in Lancaster, PA, which remains a museum to this day.

The real golden years for the Liberty Bell came after independence was won. The bell was rung out in major holidays such as the Fourth of July and George Washington's birthday until the crack rendered it useless (more on that shortly).

Its use as a symbol came into being during the fight for emancipation and the run-up to the Civil War. It became a visual icon of the fight for freedom from slavery and was frequently evoked in abolitionist speeches to Congress. Following the war, the bell was used as a symbol to reunite a fractured country, going on a tour of all the states alongside the most famous political titans of the era.

This is where the Liberty Bell's true meaning comes from, not from the early days of independence. Since then the bell has become an icon of American culture. It continues to be printed on postage stamps and dollar coins from the US Mint.

It has featured as the main plotline in hit TV shows such as How I Met Your Mother and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, with both episodes watched by millions. The Liberty Bell also inspired the first slot machine in history, with Betway's casino history blog detailing how, in 1887, Charles August Fey created the first ever automated slot machine, naming it "Liberty Bell". Even back then, the bell was a powerful symbol of national culture.

Let's Talk About the Crack

Now onto the bit we all really care about - the crack. It's worth noting that the "first" crack in the Liberty Bell actually appeared the first time it was used. The legislature accused the Whitechapel Bell Foundry of giving them an inferior bell, as it cracked the first time they tried to ring it.

It was recast by some local bell makers, and went on to do its job for another 100 years. The most popular theory is that it cracked during celebrations of George Washington's birthday, although this has been disputed. Another theory is that it cracked while ringing out to mark the death of John Marshall, the Chief Supreme Court Justice, in 1836.

Further press reports make claims of the crack appearing in 1845, 1852, 1888, 1890, and even as recently as 1901. The real crack most likely didn't occur as it did from a single event.

Rather, the repeated use of the Liberty Bell at State Fairs, national holidays, exhibitions, and political moments slowly widened the crack over time. Sorry if you were hoping for a more exciting explanation.

The Liberty Bell stands for so much of what makes America great; freedom, standing up for others, and the pursuit of happiness. This symbolism will continue to grow regardless o