Did you know that the Liberty Bell in America has a connection to Big Ben in England?
In 1752, the foundry cast the Liberty Bell which was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges, Pennsylvania’s original constitution, but it cracked soon after it arrived in Philadelphia. Local craftsmen John Pass and John Stow cast a new bell in 1753, using metal from the English bell. By 1846, a thin crack began to affect the sound of the bell. It was repaired again in time for George Washington’s birthday, however, when the bell was first rung to mark the event, it cracked again and has not been rung since. No one knows why the bell cracked either time.
Big Ben, the massive timekeeper at the Palace of Westminster, was cast in 1858 and rung for the first time on May 31, 1859. However, the bell weighed 13 ½ tons and was the largest bell ever cast at the foundry. The bell cracked because the hammer that was used was too heavy. The hammer has since been replaced. The crack remains and along with retuning, it gives Big Ben a distinctive tone.
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry dates back to 1570. The present building on Whitechapel Road and Plumbers Row dates from 1670 and was formerly a coaching inn called “The Artichoke” which ceased trading in 1738. The following year, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry moved in and occupied the site to the present day.
The foundry’s main business is the bellfounding and manufacture of church bells and their fittings and accessories, although it also provides single tolling bells, carillon bells and handbells.
Many churches across the world have bells cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, including: Armenian Church, Chennai; St Dunstan’s, Mayfield; St Dunstan’s, Stepney; St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside; St. Michael’s Church, Charleston; St Michael’s, Beckwithshaw; St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Newtown and St Philip’s Church.
The Foundry designed the Olympic Bell seen at the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games, although it was not cast on the premises. The furnaces at Whitechapel could not provide the 23 tons of molten metal required to make the bell, so it was manufactured at a factory in the Netherlands which normally produces ship’s propellers.
Here are some interesting facts about the Liberty Bell.
- In 1751, when the bell was commissioned for the Pennsylvania State House, the Speaker asked that a Bible verse be placed on the bell because the Pennsylvania colony was proud of the freedom of religion they had acquired in the new colony. The verse, “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land Unto all the inhabitants thereof,” is from Leviticus 25:10.
- On July 8, 1776, the bell was rung to announce the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.
- The bell was first called the Liberty Bell by a group trying to abolish slavery.
- In the late 1800s, the Liberty Bell traveled around the country to expositions and fairs in an attempt to heal divisions from the Civil War.
- The bell weighs 2080 pounds and hangs from what is believed to be its original yoke made from American elm.
- In 1915, the bell was returned to Philadelphia and is housed at Independence National Historical Park. Tickets are not required to view the bell.
Thanks to computer technology, we may have a closer idea of exactly how the Bell sounded when Benjamin Franklin heard it.
In 1999, graduate students from Pennsylvania State University were able to digitally create a structural model of the Liberty Bell. From this computer model, they were able to mathematically equate the vibration of the Bell and add sound. Knowing that the tone of the Bell was E-flat, they were able to come up with a fairly close approximation of the original sound of the Liberty Bell.