The Bells and Clocks of Independence Hall

Detail, clock face with words "Seth Thomas Clock Co."
This clock from 1876 still keeps time in Independence Hall today.

NPS photo

There were a number of bells that rang out from the tower of Independence Hall over the years - not just the famous Liberty Bell. These bells, along with some clocks, played an important role in gathering people together and in keeping time for the city’s residents.

Looking for weights, dates, metal composition and other facts about the clocks and bells? Check out this fact sheet.

Liberty Bell, Clock Bell, and Stretch Clock - installed in the 1750s

The Liberty Bell rang out from the Independence Hall tower - and a separate clock bell rang on the Hall's roof - beginning in the 1750s. A clock made by Thomas Stretch kept time from the building in this same period.

The Liberty Bell
Thomas Lester and Thomas Pack, of what eventually became known as the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, England cast a bell for the Pennsylvania Statehouse (Independence Hall today). By September 1, 1752 that bell arrived in Philadelphia. Soon after, it cracked. Isaac Norris II wrote that he had the “mortification to hear that it was cracked by a stroke of the clapper without any other violence as it was hung up to try the sound.”

Local metal founders John Pass and John Stow recast the cracked bell. By early June 1753 workmen raised Pass and Stow’s bell in the tower of Independence Hall. It's this bell that later took on a more famous nickname - the Liberty Bell. This bell bears an inscription from Leviticus 25:10: Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.

The Pass and Stow bell (Liberty Bell) rang to call:

  • Pennsylvania’s legislature to work

  • students to school

  • worshipers to church

This bell may have rung with other city bells to celebrate the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776. This connection with the creation of the United States began the State House bell’s transformation from utilitarian bell to famous symbol of liberty.

Workmen took down the deteriorating wooden portion of the tower in 1781, but the Liberty Bell continued to ring and/or be displayed from other locations in the building:

  • hung on timbers in the top brick level of the original tower 1778-1852, rung on special occasions. *Note - the Liberty Bell cracked irreparably in 1846.
  • displayed on pedestal in the Assembly Room 1852-1873
  • hung from original timbers in tower ground floor 1873-1877
  • suspended from a 13-link chain in the stair hall 1877-1881
  • traveled extensively to expositions 1881-1894, 1915
  • hung from metal "wishbones" in a case in the tower ground floor 1894-1898, 1916-1917
  • displayed in glass pavilion on Market Street January 1, 1976-October 8, 2003
  • moved to current location October 8, 2003

Clock Bell
Pennsylvania’s legislature ordered another bell from Thomas Lester and Thomas Pack in London in 1753. When the bell arrived in 1754, it sat on the roof of Independence Hall, covered by a shed. Workmen connected this bell to a Thomas Stretch clock that had been placed in the attic of Independence Hall. That second Lester and Pack bell chimed the hours. The City of Philadelphia sold the clock bell to St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church at 4th and Race Streets in 1829. In May 1844, anti-Catholic rioters destroyed the church and the clock bell fell from the tower, leaving it in fragments. Several of the bell's fragments were saved and recast into a bell. That bell is now located at Villanova University.

Thomas Stretch Clock
The City also sold the Thomas Stretch clock to St. Augustine's Church. It, too, burned when rioters destroyed the church in May 1844. Most Philadelphians did not miss the Stretch clock due to its inaccuracy. Councilman Benjamin Tilghman described it as: “an excusing, not a regulating clock.” Clockmaker Thomas Stretch originally made the clock in 1752-1753. It had two faces: one on the east end of the building and the other on the west end of the building. The west end clock face also contained a masonry tower on the building's exterior (it looked like a large grandfather clock) that hid the weights needed to power the clock. The mechanics of the clock were situated in the middle of the attic with rods connected to the east and west clock faces.The clock bell was directly above that mechanism on the roof, covered by a shelter. The National Park Service reconstructed the west end clock face and masonry tower in 1973.

Wilbank Bell and Lukens Clock - installed in 1828

The original bell tower fell into a "ruinous condition." In 1781, the building's caretakers tore it down. The new, larger bell tower erected in 1828 called for a new bell and clock.

Wilbank Bell
In 1828, John Wilbank cast a new, larger bell for the tower of Independence Hall. It first rang on July 4th that year, but listeners were unimpressed with the sound of this bell. Wilbank replaced this bell with a new one. This new bell later relocated to the Germantown Town Hall on Market Square in 1877. It relocated again in 1924 to the Germantown Town Hall location on Germantown Avenue.

Isaiah Lukens Clock
The Lukens clock also moved to the Germantown Town Hall locations with the Wilbank bell. This clock had four copper dials, each one measuring eight feet in diameter. This was the first four-faced steeple clock in the tower of Independence Hall. These clockworks are now in the museum collection of Independence National Historical Park.

Centennial Bell and Thomas Clock - installed in 1876

The 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence - the Centennial - focused much attention on Independence Hall. A wealthy Philadelphian donated a new bell and clock for the occasion in 1876.

Centennial Bell
For the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1876, Philadelphia philanthropist Henry Seybert gifted a new bell to the city. Cast by the Meneely-Kimberly Foundry in Troy, New York, this bell is laden with symbolism:

  • It weighs 13,000 pounds to represent each of the original thirteen states

  • It contains two cannons from the American Revolutionary War
    • one American and one British cannon used at the Battle of Saratoga
  • It contains two cannons from the American Civil War
    • one Union and one Confederate cannon used at the Battle of Gettysburg
  • It features two inscriptions:
    • Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof, Leviticus 25:10
    • Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men, Luke 2:14

When the Centennial Bell rang on July 4, 1876, listeners thought the sound quality was poor. Henry Seybert had it removed from the steeple and shipped back to Troy, New York for recasting. By the end of 1876 workmen placed the recast Centennial Bell in the steeple of Independence Hall where it has been chiming the hours ever since.

Seth Thomas Clock
Henry Seybert also gifted a 6,000-pound Seth Thomas clock for the steeple of Independence Hall. In 1926 the City of Philadelphia had an electronic automatic winding unit added to the Seth Thomas Clock.

Last updated: April 23, 2021