Tradition says that on July 8, 1776, the Liberty Bell rang from the tower of the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall) as it summoned Philadelphians to hear Col. John Nixon give the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. The Pennsylvania Assembly ordered the 2,000-pound bell from London in 1751, specifying that it bear an inscription from the Bible: “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof ” (Lev. 25:10 kjv).

It arrived in Philadelphia the next year but cracked on its very first test, probably due to a flaw in its casting, so it was melted down and recast twice to make a new bell.

Over the years the bell rang often to call people for announcements and special events. It pealed in 1765 for Philadelphians to discuss the Stamp Act, in 1774 for the First Continental Congress, and in 1775 after the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

At some point – no one is certain when – the bell cracked again. On February 22, 1846, during a ringing for Washington’s birthday, the crack grew so much that the bell became unusable.

It no longer rings, though on special occasions, such as the Fourth of July, it is gently tapped. On June 6, 1944, when the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy, officials struck the bell and broadcast its tone across the nation.

Today the Liberty Bell sits near Independence Hall in a pavilion known as the Liberty Bell Center. Lines from an old poem capture Americans’ attachment to the venerable icon:

The old bell now is silent,
And hushed its iron tongue,
But the spirit it awakened
Still lives forever young.