|The City Hall Building was built in 1895. At that time it was the 3rd tallest building in the United States. Shortly after it's completion, the Common Council introduced a resolution to advertise for bid for a 7,000 pound bell. A number of resolutions followed and the size of the bell increased to 20,000 pounds. Thus would make the bell the third largest in the world at that time.
A contract was let to George C. Campbell a local founder. After several attempts, a flawless casting was made on October 16th that year. Made from 77% Lake Superior Copper and 23% East India tin the bell manufactured locally at Centennial Iron and Bell Foundry on Oregon Street was delivered to City Hall on November 26, 1896.
Loaded on a wagon pulled by six strong horses a crowd of a hundred people followed behind as it made it's mile journey to City Hall. On it's way, the bell was weighed at the E.P. Allis Co. at a certified weight of 20,505 pounds. Having added to the scale it's large clapper and fittings, the tower bell tipped the scale at a total of 22,555 pounds. Upon it's arrival, the daunting task of raising of the huge bell that measures 8 feet 2 inches at the rim and 8 feet 8 inches high 300 vertical feet to the belfry would wait until the next day.
Four men hoisted the bell walking around a capstan located in the belfry took 16 hours to complete the task as a crowd of nearly 1000 on-lookers gathered to watch. The job created excitement as the bell was slowly raised by a large manila rope as gusts of wind threatened to damage the newly constructed masonry of the tower. At the end of a long laborious day, the massive bell was bolted to the girder where is hangs to this day.
The bell was rung for the first time on New Years Eve, 1896. The bell was heard miles away, but not in the immediate vicinity around City Hall. The noise from steam whistles, giant firecrackers, other bells and often revolvers, welcoming the new year overpowered the tones. (To hear the bell click on the bell above) As the celebration settled , the bell was re-struck at 12:25 am in the sequence 1-8-9-7. Much to the cheers and jubilation of the crowd below, comparisons were made to that of the rings of the bell of the House of Parliament in London and Milwaukee's citizens nick named it "Big Ben." The sound was reportedly heard as far away as Mequon, Racine, and Oconomowoc Lake. The tone, so painstakingly calculated to the 10th decimal place by George Campbell was to ring a "true tone".
There is an interesting history regarding the bell because the bell was silenced in 1925 by a decree of Mayor Daniel Hoan and did not ring for 15 years until Mayor Zeidler began the tradition to ring the bell annually on Independence Day July 4, 1940. During that 15 year period the bell only rang once to determine the bells true tone. A trained musician listened to the ring and reported that the tone sounded the key of "G". Others reported that the bell rings in the key of "E". In any case, the Bell did not ring regularly as intended for more than 70 years until New Years eve 1999. (For more information on the ringing of the bell, advance to the linked article above)
The official name for the bell was decreed "Solomon Juneau" after Milwaukee's first Mayor and founding father. And most noteworthy, the bell bears this inscription: -
When I sound the hour of the day,
From this grand and lofty steeple,
Deem it a reminder, pray,
To be honest with the people.