If you have driven by the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, you probably have noticed, and wondered about, the Liberty Bell replica on the library’s grounds.
The July 4 holiday is an appropriate time to learn more about why a replica of one of our nation’s most enduring symbols is located in Independence.
Here’s the story:
As inspirational symbols for its 1950 savings bond campaign, the U.S. Treasury Department commissioned 53 Liberty Bell replicas to be cast at the Sons of Georges Paccard foundry in Annecy-le-Vieux, Haute Savoie, France.
That foundry was selected because it used processes similar to those of the 1750s, when the original Liberty Bell was made. (The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia was forged at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, England.) Their dimensions and tone were identical with those of the original Liberty Bell that rang out when Americans proclaimed their freedom in Philadelphia in 1776. Each bell cost $2,200 to make, and six large U.S. metal companies financed most of the expenses.
The bells were distributed to all 48 states and to the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands to promote savings bonds sales.
The people of Annecy-le-Vieux also gave a 54th bell to the city of Independence because of its name and because it was the home of President Truman. The mayor of Annecy, Georges Volland, presented that bell to President Truman, who accepted it on behalf of the nation, and to Mayor Robert Weatherford, who accepted it on behalf of the city.
The bell was originally installed in a tower on the south side of the Memorial Building and dedicated on Nov. 6, 1950. On that day, President Truman told a crowd of 10,000 people, which included Secretary of the Treasury John Snyder and the actor Broderick Crawford, that the “spirit of the American Revolution has guided this nation since 1776. We have continued to work – and to fight when necessary – for the revolutionary principles of human freedom and political equality.”
He also noted that “the common defense of the free nations is much more than a military matter. It is also a matter of building up economic strength and upholding spiritual values.”
In 1959, the Liberty Bell replica was moved, without the tower, to the Truman Library and rededicated on July 4. A long-time Truman friend and attorney, Rufus Burrus, headed a citizens committee that organized the dedication program, which was attended by the acting French consul in Kansas City, who represented the mayor of Annecy and the people of France.
Another Truman friend, reporter and WDAF news director Randall Jessee, served as master of ceremonies. A crowd of 1,500 people watched the ceremonies at the library, where the William Chrisman High School band performed and Truman himself spoke.
The following year, in 1960, Truman attended the July 4 ceremony in which two Independence boys, Gene A. Baade and Gary L. Wilson, rang the bell 50 times to honor the 50 states. (Alaska and Hawaii had recently been added to the union.)
In the early 1990s, the bell underwent conservation treatment. It was cleaned, corrosion was removed, protective coats of wax and resin were added, and the structural supports were rebuilt. Even the “crack” that was painted on the surface to imitate the one on the original Liberty Bell was cleaned.
Although the bell has remained silent since it was last rung by Boy Scouts during the 1990s, it remains a symbol of the freedoms that President Truman protected and that Americans cherish.
Sam Rushay is the supervisory archivist of the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence.