Closeup of the crack in the Liberty Bell, originally forged by Whitechapel Foundry in Britain in 1752. The Liberty Bell has a colorful history. Technically, this was not the first crack in the bell. The initial crack developed when the bell was hung in the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House for the first time on March 10, 1753. Pennsylvanians were not happy with the sound, and right away two Philadelphia foundry workers, John Pass and John Stow, were given the job of melting down the flawed bell and recasting it. This they did over the next three weeks. The new bell was raised in the statehouse steeple on March 29, 1753, but people were displeased with the sound of the second bell as well. So Pass and Stow cast the bell yet again, and on June 11, 1753, the Liberty Bell that we know (the third bell) was raised into the steeple. By most accounts the sound of this third bell was not great either, but it was the bell Pennsylvanians had, so they eventually reconciled themselves to it. (An entirely different bell was ordered from a foundry in England late in 1753, but since it sounded no better than the Liberty Bell, it was used elsewhere.)
Historians argue over when the now-famous crack appeared on the Liberty Bell. What is known is that the final expansion of the crack that rendered the bell unringable occurred on George Washington's birthday in 1846.
The bell never rang again, but abolitionists and others turned it into a symbol of expanding freedom in the 1830s and 1840s -- and a powerful symbol it has remained to this day.
Photos and text © Gleaves Whitney 2005