Architect James Renwick, Jr. designed the Smithsonian Building with a tall tower featuring four clock faces carved into the stone. Early in 1851 the Smithsonian’s Regents approved a resolution authorizing the Secretary to purchase a clock and bell for the tower. For unknown reasons, neither bell nor clock were installed at that time. The Smithsonian’s 150th Anniversary year presented an opportunity to fulfill the intent of the 1851 resolution with the casting of an 821-pound bronze bell at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London, England. The foundry, which has been in continuous operation for over 576 years, also cast Big Ben and the Liberty Bell, as well as several working bells in Washington, D.C., including those in the Old Post Office and the Washington National Cathedral. Casting took place on September 21, 1995.
Bearing an inscription proclaiming the Smithsonian mission, “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge…,” the inscribed bell also recognizes its donor, A.T. Cross Company, which shares the Smithsonian’s year of origin, 1846. The bell was lifted into its position on the clock tower roof, unseen from ground level, where it rang out for the first time on the Smithsonian’s birthday, August 10, 1996.
The bell is a stationary clock bell, and is wired directly to the Castle tower clock. Electronic controls regulate the bell’s ringing and automatically adjust for daylight savings time. Smith of Derby Clockmakers, of Derby, England, manufactured the new clockworks for the Smithsonian bell.