One of the most iconic images of July 4th is that of the Liberty Bell being rung while the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. That story was created by writer George Lippard in his story, “Fourth of July, 1776” which appeared in Saturday Review magazine. In the story, an old bellman was sitting sullenly by the Liberty Bell, worried that the men were not going to have the courage to sign the Declaration. The story builds to a climatic moment when a young boy runs up to the tower with instructions for the bellman to ring the bell. The story was published on January 2, 1847, and is responsible for linking the Liberty Bell to America’s Independence Day. Years later, parts of the story were used in a pictorial history of the revolution, turning the story into historical fact.
The trouble is, the event in that story never happened.
Although the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, there was no public declaration of the event, so no bells—Liberty or otherwise—were ever rung. When the Declaration was read in public on July 8th, bells were rung, but it is not clear if the Liberty Bell was one of them, as the bell tower of the State House was in terrible condition and may have prevented the bell from being rung.
After Washington’s defeat at the Battle of Brandywine on September 17, 1777, Philadelphians feared the bell would be stolen and melted down for ammunition. They took it in a wagon to a Zion German Reformed Church in Allentown and hid it behind a fake wall. It was returned to the State House in June 1778 and was rung each year on July 4th and on George Washington’s birthday.
The Liberty Bell now resides in the Liberty Bell Center next to the Independence Mall in Philadelphia.