Bells of American History – Liberty Bell Foundry Closing After 500 Years

By Faye Higbee

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1778, 12 bells were removed from their hiding place after a year of refuge in an Allentown Church basement. The bells were hidden when the British occupied the city of “brotherly love.”  One of those bells became what is known as the Liberty Bell. The Foundry that created the bells issued a statement on December 1st that they will be closing their doors after at least 500 years.

The demand for church bells is down. One bell alone now can cost as much as $316.000 to produce.

Colonial America

The bells of Colonial America were made of bronze, which could have been recast as weapons, but the sound of the bells was a method of communication, a tradition. At least 27 of the colonies’ bells were cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd.

The Smithsonian wrote,

East London’s Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd., a company nearly five centuries old, cast many of these colonial voices, including the 12 bells stashed during the Revolutionary War. In a statement released on December 1, the Foundry announced that within the next six months, it would stop its operations on Whitechapel Road, its home since 1738. Owner Alan Hughes, whose family has owned the foundry for more than a century, has sold the property and is considering “the future direction, ownership, and location of the company.”

It’s an abrupt shift for a company that’s been in business since approximately 1570—and perhaps even earlier. Through the centuries, the foundry has sent bells from Saint Petersburg to Sydney and welcomed generations of the royal family to witness its craftsmanship.

The Liberty Bell

The bell that now hangs in the Liberty Bell Center  was first known as the State House Bell. During a sound test, the bell cracked. A Philadelphia Company melted and recast it, but it became damaged again, and no one really knows how.  It hasn’t rang for over 100 years.

Inscribed across the top of the bell are these words:


After the Civil War, the bell was taken on seven national road trips between 1885 and 1915 in an attempt to re-unify the nation. It was such a visible symbol of the country that people rallied around it.

The Liberty Bell’s sister bell – “the Tenor”  regularly rings in the Christ Church steeple. The specifications of that 1702 bell are  nearly identical to the Liberty Bell. It weighs 2,000 pounds. It also cracked in 1834, and was sent back to London for recasting.

The two bells rang together on July 8, 1776, to announce the first reading of the Declaration of Independence.

“Bells were the way the community expressed itself, its political urgency, its faith.” George Boudreau, La Salle University

Only 13 of the original 27 Whitechapel bells remain in Philadelphia.

In 2001, the Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury commissioned Whitechapel Bell Foundry to create a bell for the City of New York as a gift after the 9-11 attacks. Every year on September 11, it rings from St. Paul’s Chapel as a call to remembrance.