Question of the Week
Why was the Liberty Bell in San Francisco in 1915?
Answer: Panama-Pacific International Exposition
Though the Liberty Bell is now a fixture between 5th and 6th streets on Market Street in Philadelphia, it wasn’t always so permanent. Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, the bell was often shown at fairs and exhibitions around the country. The bell served as a symbol and reminder of American independence (and was occasionally rung and often touched by viewers).
The bell made its final trip out of the city in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. While its purpose was to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, it also allowed San Francisco to show off its rebuilding efforts since the 1906 earthquake. When exposition officials appealed to Philadelphia for the bell, city representatives were hesitant to let the bell travel again, fearing that it might sustain damage during the long journey. However, their minds were swayed when they received a signed petition from 500,000 California children asking for the bell. Philadelphia Mayor Rudolph Blankenburg approved the request.
The bell began its trip from Philadelphia with a grand parade on July 5, 1915. It had several scheduled stops before it reached the west coast. By train, the bell traveled over 10,000 miles and made stops in thirteen states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon before reaching California. The bell was met with plenty of patriotic enthusiasm and was one of the highlights of the fair. In December, the bell began its return journey, visiting fourteen states, including Arizona, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, New York, and New Jersey, before reaching its destination.
Among HSP's collections are two photo albums documenting the Liberty Bell's 1915 national tour: Liberty Bell Tour photograph album (Bd 68 C129) and a Photo album documenting the Liberty Bell's trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco (#D0066). Published resources on the history of the bell can be found in our library.
Image: Truck leaving Independence Hall with the Liberty Bell, photograph (July 1915)
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.