History of the Bicentennial Bell

Compiled by R. Giannini, January 2014.  Independence National Historical Park

BB_WhiteHall

May 11, 1976, Whitechapel Foundry, London, England

In the early 1970s, Independence National Historical Park announced its plan to build a new Visitor Center at 3rd and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia. In response, the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company offered $50,000 for the casting of a Bicentennial Bell to hang in the tower of that new Visitor Center. The casting was recommended for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, England (the same foundry that first cast the bell that later became the “Liberty Bell”). Shortly after the Hancock proposal was presented, the British Ambassador to the United States met with NPS officials to propose that the Bicentennial Bell would be a gift from the people of Britain to the people of the United States to celebrate the 1976 United States Bicentennial.

In January 1976, the molds for the bell were made. On March 4th, the bell was cast with a mixture of copper and tin during a 16-minute pour. When completed, the bell was 6’ 10” in diameter at its lip and 5’ 6” in height. It weighed approximately 6 tons.    The bell is inscribed:

FOR THE

PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES

FROM THE

PEOPLE OF BRITAIN

4 JULY 1976

LET FREEDOM RING

The words “Let Freedom Ring” were chosen for this bell for what they represent of the joint heritage and purpose of the British and American peoples. The words come from the last line of the anthem, “My Country ‘tis of Thee,” written by Samuel Francis Smith and sung to the same music as the British national anthem.

The bell was tuned to the note of “G” below middle “C. It was first officially rung at the foundry by Mr. John Warner, Administrator of the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, before a gathering of Ministers and other dignitaries from America and Britain including members of the British Bicentennial Liaison Committee under their Chairman, Lord Lothian.

The bell arrived in New York City via the freighter “Dart Atlantic” in May 1976. Maislin Transport then conveyed the bell to Philadelphia where the Eaton Corporation hoisted it into the Visitor Center bell tower (130 above the ground) on June 15, 1976.

On July 6, 1976 HRH Queen Elizabeth II dedicated the Bicentennial Bell. Her words, later transcribed on two bronze plaques displayed at the base of the Visitor Center bell tower, were:

I speak to you as the direct descendant of King George III. He was the last Crowned Sovereign to rule in this country, and it is therefore with a particular personal interest that I view those events which took place 200 years ago.

            It seems to me that Independence Day, the Fourth of July, should be celebrated as much in Britain as in America. Not in rejoicing at the separation of the American Colonies from the British Crown but in sincere gratitude to the Founding Fathers of this Great Republic for having taught Britain a very valuable lesson.

            We lost the American Colonies because we lacked that statesmanship “to know the right time, and the manner of yielding, what is impossible to Keep”.

            But the lesson was learnt. In the next century and a half we kept more closely to the principles of Magna Carta which have been the common heritage of both our countries.

            We learnt to respect the right of others to govern themselves in their own ways. This was the outcome of experience learned the hard way in 1776. Without that great act in the cause of liberty performed in Independence Hall two hundred years ago, we could never have transformed an Empire into a Commonwealth!

            Ultimately peace brought a renewal of friendship which has continued and grown over the years and has played a vital part in world affairs. Together we have fought in two world wars in the defence of our common heritage of freedom. Together we have striven to keep the peace so dearly won. Together, as friends and allies, we can face the uncertainties of the future, and this is something for which we in Britain can also celebrate the Fourth of July.

            This morning I saw the famous Liberty Bell. It came here over 200 years ago when Philadelphia, after London, was the largest English speaking City in the world. It was cast to commemorate the Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges, but is better known for its association with the Declaration of Independence.

            Today, to mark the 200th anniversary of that declaration, it gives me the greatest pleasure, on behalf of the British people, to present a new bell to the people of the United States of America. It comes from the same foundry as the Liberty Bell, but written on the side of this Bicentennial Bell are the words “Let Freedom Ring”.

            It is a message in which both our people can join and which I hope will be heard around the world for centuries to come.

The Bicentennial Bell hung in the tower of Independence National Historical Park’s Visitor Center at 3rd and Chestnut Streets from June 15, 1976 until January 31, 2013.  In 2013, the National Park Service working with Northwind Engineering and the George Young Company removed the bell from the tower.   At present, the bell resides in storage to await placement in a new Independence National Historical Park location.