Wanamaker Bells


John Wanamaker (1838-1922) is probably the most important of all the Wanamakers in American history, primarily because of the gigantic mercantile enterprise that he built in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.  (See the English Wikipedia article about him for details unrelated to bells.)  That enterprise was carried on after his death by his second son, Rodman Wanamaker (1863-1928; see his FindAGrave memorial page for details of his life unrelated to bells).  Nowadays, the ownership of the Wanamaker building in Philadelphia has passed into other hands, and the Wanamaker name is perhaps best known because of the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ which remains in that building and is regularly played.

The Wanamaker name first came to the attention of the author of this Website long before the World Wide Web existed, with the report of a 15-bell McShane chime installed in the Wanamaker Mausoleum in Philadelphia.  That chime was recorded in the author's database in early 1993, and a site data page for it was created in January 2002.  Although it may have been known from the beginning that the McShane chime is surrounded by a 19-note Deagan tubular chime, that was not recorded in the author's database until the middle of 2001, and a site data page for it was created in May 2004.  Since then, further discoveries have revealed more instances of bells associated with both John and Rodman Wanamaker, making the effort to construct this page worthwhile.

NOTE:  All local and external links on this page will open in a separate tab or window, depending on the settings of your Web browser.

Events and Installations

The events described here, a few of which have no obvious connection to bells, are listed in chronological order. 


John Wanamaker purchased the abandoned Philadelphia Railroad freight station at 13th and Market Streets, and began transforming it into his newest store, aptly named the Grand Depot.  By the time it opened in March of 1876, Wanamaker had modified the building to present a Moorish façade to the public.  A contemporary drawing views it from the northeast, with Market street at the right and 13th street at the left; there is a clocktower on the corner.  It is thought that the freight station did not have a clocktower, so presumably that was added by Wanamaker.  As a public clock, it might well have had an hour bell connected to it, but nothing is known of that.


A long page about the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia records that John Wanamaker was one of the Directors.  One of the features of this exhibition was a 13-bell chime in a tower on Machinery Hall.  Made by the McShane Bell Foundry of Baltimore (and their first such instrument), this set of bells was heard every day by fairgoers (undoubtedly including the Wanamakers), and eventually won its maker a gold medal.


A set of five bells was ordered from the foundry of Henry McShane & Co., Baltimore, Maryland, by the E. Howard Watch & Clock Company of New York City, for delivery to Mr. John Wanamaker, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The order (#4447) specified that there were to be no custom inscriptions, and none of the mountings customarily supplied with church bells.  Clearly, the expectation was that the bells would be hung fixed as clock bells, connected to an E.Howard tower clock.  From the weights of the bells, it is also clear that the clock was intended to strike the Cambridge (Westminster) quarter-tunes on the four smaller bells, with the hour strike at the octave on the largest bell, which weighed about 3000 pounds.  The order was received by McShane on December 6, 1886, and the bells were shipped on March 24, 1887, via the Ericson Line.  The order was invoiced at 17 cents per pound, and the shipping weight was nearly 5000 pounds, placing the final cost at about $850.

The records of the E.Howard company (book D #21) show that they installed a tower clock (Model #2 d S) in the John Wanamaker Building in 1887.  Undoubtedly this went into the clocktower on the corner of the Grand Depot building.  It is conceivable that the clock and bells replaced a clock which had only an hour strike.


A good history of the Wanamaker commercial empire includes a clickable photo of Market Street looking east from City Hall, circa 1890.  In that photo, it is clear that the John Wanamaker building has been increased to six stories along the 13th street side of the block, though the rest of the block remained at two stories.  (To see an even larger version of the photo, follow the PhillyHistory link below it, or click here.)  Atop the 13th & Market corner is a substantial clocktower with windows, not louvers, below the clock faces; compare the photo at "possibly 1895", below.

In a stock photo of an undated old stereograph of Market Street looking west from 12th street, the clocktowers of the 6-story Wanamaker Building and of City Hall are both visible, though not with as much detail as one might like.  (Mouse over that photo to reveal a control to enlarge the photo to near fullscreen size.)

A drawing of the Wanamaker building, made in 1891, shows clearly how one side of the double city block has been increased to six stories, with two corner towers.  The nearest tower, flying a flag, is at the corner of 13th and Market, and is obviously a clocktower; the function of the other (if anything more than ornament) is not known.  Also unknown is just when that six-story construction took place.

An undated stereograph pair, titled "City Hall and John Wanamakers," shows only the southeast corner of the City Hall (Public Buildings), on the left side of the picture.  The majority of the picture shows the Juniper street side (west side) of the John Wanamaker store, with the top of its clocktower on the far side just visible.  Unfortunately it is not possible to see the portion of the clocktower below the clock faces.  The windows below the John Wanamaker name are the modified remnants of the loading docks or railroad siding entrances of the PRR Freight Depot.

19 January 1895

Wanamaker advertisements in at least three newspapers (The Times and The Inquirer of Philadelphia, as well as The Morning News of Wilmington, Delaware) mentioned "Chimes with 15 tubular bells," which played a tune every quarter hour — "the only chimes in the world upon which tunes are played by electric power."  Undoubtedly this chime was supplied by Walter Durfee of Providence, Rhode Island, either directly or through his U.S.Tubular Bell Company; all of his other tower chimes that have been discovered were played by hand, not by electricity.  It seems reasonable to conclude that this chime was installed in the clock tower on the 13th & Market corner of the Grand Depot, so as to be controlled by that clock.  Unfortunately, no clue has been found regarding the supplier of the chiming machinery.

undated, possibly 1895

A modern historical marker near the Wanamaker Building includes a photo of a photo that shows the clocktower on the 13th & Market corner of the 6-story expansion of the Grand Depot.  Note the louvered area below the clock, which undoubtedly provided sufficient space to house the tubular chime.

November 1895

John Wanamaker placed an order for a single bell with the McShane Bell Foundry.  Order #10347, which was received there on November 22, specified that the bell was to have complete mountings (as for a swinging church bell) and an inscription.  Unfortunately there is no record of the text of that inscription.  With a weight of 1910 pounds, plus fittings of 186 pounds (total 2096 pounds), the bell was invoiced at $357.00, and was shipped via the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad on December 13, 1895.  It is not yet known where John Wanamaker intended this bell to be placed, but it could have been in one of the churches that he supported.


The chime of 15 tubular bells was sold to a New York City millionaire for his summer estate which was then under construction.  Although it has been asserted that the chime was too loud for the city streets, Your Editor believes that just the opposite was more likely.  Besides, the Wanamakers may already have been thinking forward to the expansion project which was to begin in a few years (see below).

November 1902

On November 19, the McShane Bell Foundry received from John Wanamaker an order (#12463) for a single bell, intended for the John Chambers Memorial Church, 28th & Morris streets, Philadelphia.  When shipped on December 20, via Philadelphia boat, this bell weighed 1893 pounds, with fittings of 185 pounds (total 2078 pounds).

The John Chambers Memorial Presbyterian Church (or Chapel) had been established earlier in the year, funded by John Wanamaker, as a mission of Bethany Presbyterian Church, which John Wanamaker had helped to establish in this city in 1865.


Prominent American architect Daniel Burnham was engaged to design a 12-story retail emporium to replace the Grand Depot, on the same double city block.  This seems to have been accomplished in three distinct phases, so as to avoid total disruption of the retail sales.  The new store, officially named "John Wanamaker" but sometimes referred to as "Wanamaker's", was built around a central Grand Court that soon housed a 2,500-pound bronze Eagle statue.  This was to become a popular meeting place, and Philadelphians still may say "Meet me at the Eagle".


A stereograph pair taken from the tower of the City Hall looks east on Market street.  The Wanamaker building with its clock tower on the corner of 13th & Market is at right, and shows no evidence of the reconstruction that is being planned.  If you cross your eyes carefully, you may be able to view this as a three-dimensional image, just as if you actually had a stereograph in hand.  (A single-image version is here, and multiple sizes are available.  A "Zoom viewer" is very slow, but may provide an even larger view.) Notice the row of horse-drawn delivery wagons carefully parked in front of the Wanamaker building.

March 1908

Thomas B. Wanamaker, John's eldest child and an active participant in the Wanamaker enterprise, died on March 2nd in Paris, France, after suffering from a series of health issues.  Rodman Wanamaker commissioned construction of the Wanamaker Memorial Tower as a memorial to his late brother.  Located in the churchyard of St.James the Less Episcopal Church, Philadelphia (where two young siblings of Thomas and Rodman had already been buried), it was situated near the southwest cemetery entrance, and was designed by Philadelphia architect John T. Windrim.  (Note that the name of this church is sometimes written as St.James-the-Less, especially in historical documents.)  The location and plans were approved by Mr. Henry Vaughan, architect, who was consulted as to the effect on the church and churchyard.  Rising over 50 feet, the structure consists of two small chapels on the ground floor, a three-stage tower joining the chapels, and a three-room crypt beneath.  Each of the chapels contains six burial vaults (three on each side wall), while the crypt contains 24 more (nine below each chapel and six below the central tower), for a total of 36.  It is obvious that John and Rodman expected this structure to house the remains of future generations of Wanamakers.  However, that expectation was not fulfilled; many Wanamaker descendants chose to be interred elsewhere, so that many of those spaces remain empty.

April 1909

The memorial tower was completed, and at about the same time the Wanamakers ordered a chime of 15 conventional bells from the McShane Bell Foundry Company in Baltimore, Maryland.  The foundry received the order on April 26, and assigned it order #14027.  The bells, with a total weight of about 26,000 pounds, were shipped from Baltimore on November 10 of the same year, and were installed in the third-level belfry, with the manual action chimestand installed on the second level.  The tower was dedicated by the Rt.Rev. Thomas J. Jaggar, acting for the Bishop of Pennsylvania, on February 5, 1910.  It is not yet known for certain just where Thomas Wanamaker's body was interred, nor whether it was eventually transferred to a vault in the tower.


As the new Wanamaker Building was being constructed as an on-site replacement for the Grand Depot, the Wanamakers considered how to furnish the multi-story interior court of that building.  For that purpose, they purchased the huge pipe organ that had been built for the 1904 World's Fair in Saint Louis.  Included in the purchase was a set of organ chimes, made up of 20 tubular bells which might have been larger than those of hall clocks but were certainly smaller than those in tower chimes.  Nowadays organ chimes are common, but in those days they were still a fairly recent development.  (This set has since been replaced more than once.)  Although the World's Fair organ was at that time the largest pipe organ in the world, the Wanamakers were not content with that, and set up an in-house organ shop to make it even bigger.


John Wanamaker produced a 72-page pamphlet titled "The Wanamaker Primer of Philadelphia," which was a history of the founding of Philadelphia, with mention of many notable places, including of course The Wanamaker Store at City Hall Square.  The cover illustration was an engraving of the Liberty Bell, which is mentioned in the text.


The expanded organ was dedicated in June, and the new store opened in December.  But further expansion of the organ continued.


As part of the organ expansion project, the Wanamakers purchased from J.C.Deagan & Co. of Chicago one of the earliest sets of that firm's tubular tower chimes, with the widest tonal range ever made — 37 notes, covering three octaves, fully chromatic.  Installed by the Wanamaker Organ Shop, using strikers of their own design rather than Deagan's, this set is designated the Major Chimes on the organ stoplist.  The custom-made strikers have variable impact, controlled by one of the expression pedals on the organ console.  The original 20-note set of organ chimes, and its subsequent replacements, have been designated the Minor Chimes.


At some point in that same expansion project, the Wanamaker Organ Shop acquired from R.H.Mayland of Brooklyn, New York, a single large tubular bell, of tower scale; it may have been a sample of what Mayland could do, since he is known to have produced other tubular tower chimes.


One of the Wanamakers, most likely Rodman, ordered a 19-note Deagan tower chime for installation in the family's memorial tower.  With the help of members of the Wanamaker organ shop, the tubular bells were installed around the frame of the existing McShane chime of conventional bells, and a two-octave electric keyboard for playing them was installed on the inside of the ground-level door to the spiral stairway that connects all levels of the mausoleum, in the northeast corner of the tower.  It has been reported that these bells rang the hour and quarter hours, though no clock is visible from the outside.  It is not yet known where in the building the rest of the Deagan equipment is located; in addition to an electric clock, there must be a motor-generator to provide the DC power required by the strikers for the tubular bells, as well as a relay panel controlled by that clock and the electric keyboard.


John Wanamaker (who was in effect John Nelson II or jr, though he disliked "Nelson" and never used it) died on December 12, and was subsequently interred in the lower left vault of the north side chapel of the family mausoleum.  A report that he is instead in the family's ground vault near the lych gate is incorrect.  (A number of family members have chosen to be interred in that ground vault, or in other cemeteries, rather than in the Memorial Tower mausoleum.)

To clarify family nomenclature and relationships:
*  John Nelson Wanamaker III (1874-1923), who is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia County, was the second son of Francis Marion Wanamaker (1850-1916) and grandson of John Nelson Wanamaker (I); therefore he was a nephew of John (II).
*  Captain John Nelson Wanamaker (IV), who died in 1934 and is interred in the upper left vault of the north side chapel of the family mausoleum, was the middle of three children of Rodman Wanamaker, and therefore was a grandson of John (II).


At the beginning of this year, Rodman Wanamaker commissioned the Gillett & Johnston foundry of England to cast a great bell to memorialize his father.  Initially it was intended to weigh 15 tons — one for each decade of the country's independence — and to be rung for the first time on July 4th as part of the sesquicentennial celebrations of America.  That did not happen as scheduled, because the first casting cracked.  As delivered in December, the bell weighed more than 17 tons; the reason for the increase is not yet known.  Called the Founder's Bell, it was installed in a 100-foot tall tower on the roof of the Wanamaker Building, and was rung for the first time on New Year's Eve.  Two different custom inscriptions have been reported for it, the first being confirmed by a photograph.  It is possible that the second is on the opposite side of the bell.  (The maker's inscription is in its usual place in the shoulder band of the bell.)
JULY 4TH 1926


[i.e. the Grand Depot]


This inscription is found in this arrangement on one of the pillars of the Grand Court of the Wanamaker Building, above John Wanamaker's signature.  It is not known how it might be arranged on the Founder's Bell.

More information about this bell can be found in our list of great bells not in carillons.

Also this year, the Wanamaker company purchased the Lincoln and Liberty buildings, on a nearby city block to the west of the Wanamaker Building, demolishing them to build a new structure that would hold some of the departments of the store.  A penthouse apartment for Rodman Wanamaker would be included.

9 March 1928

Rodman Wanamaker died, and was subsequently interred in the middle left vault in the north side chapel of the family mausoleum.  His funeral service, though simple, had many mourners, including dignitaries from both Philadelphia and New York.  It was reported both locally and distantly in newspapers.

February 1931

The Founder's Bell was moved from its original location on the Wanamaker Building to a new tower on top of Wanamaker's Lincoln-Liberty Building, which was still under construction.  It's not clear just when it went into operation as an hour bell, though surely that must have been before the new building was opened for occupancy in early October of the same year.  But it soon began to be heard, sometimes unexpectedly.

October 1931

The new Lincoln-Liberty building was ready for tenants, though still not complete.  It was the tallest building in Philadelphia except for City Hall, with an observation terrace surrounding the bell tower containing Wanamaker's Founders Bell.  A month later, a long newspaper article on the start of United Relief Campaign mentioned the contribution of the great bell to that campaign.  The building was not fully complete until some time in 1932, and subsequent changes in its ownership resulted in changes of its name.


With the installation of the World Peace Bell in Newport, Kentucky, the Founder's Bell lost its position as the largest bell in the Americas not contained in a carillon.

Present day

The Wanamaker Building still stands, looking very much as it must have at its opening in 1911 except for changes in store name signage.  A Google StreetView, looking east on the south side of the Public Buildings of Penn Square, shows the Wanamaker Building in the center distance.  Comparing that with the stereograph view from c.1891, above, it is clear that the viewpoints are the same.

The Wanamaker Memorial Tower, on the other hand, is not in such good condition.  The abstract of a masters thesis, completed in 2010 in a graduate program in historic preservation, reports as follows:
    “The Wanamaker Tower is in a precarious physical state; as will be demonstrated in this thesis; exterior problems with source moisture control have let to the start of failure of the decorative marble cladding of the interior spaces.  The physical conservation problem is compounded by the absence of a constituency or advocacy for stewardship of the tower due to family disinterest and the dissolution of the parish congregation.  This thesis will examine the condition of the Tower and the mechanisms of deterioration leading to those conditions.  This thesis will also present a conservation plan aimed at addressing the treatment of the conditions as well as the future stewardship needs of the Wanamaker Memorial Tower.”
Citation:  Verone, Katherine.  (2010).  "An Examination of the Deteriorative Mechanisms and Enabling Factors at the Wanamaker Memorial Tower in Philadelphia." (Masters Thesis).  University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.

Interred in the tower are at least 8 members of the family, the last in 1974.
Provision for the possible addition of tubular chimes was intended from the beginning, though that would most likely have been anticipated to be a hand-operated 15-note set of the type produced by Walter Durfee and the U.S.Tubular Bell Company.

Additional supporting materials

Philadelphia Atlases

A collection of several Philadelphia atlases can be viewed online.  The three that are identified here are the most relevant to the history of the Wanamaker enterprise.

The 1862 Philadelphia Atlas shows the Pennsylvania Rail Road Freight Depot (the future Wanamaker building, which would initially be called the Grand Depot) fronting on Market and extending south toward Chestnut, adjacent to the southeast quadrant of Penn Square, which surrounded the intersection of Market and Broad streets.  The depot did not extend all the way to Chestnut, stopping at the one-block-long Kelley street.  Broad street was effectively 14th street; the east side of the depot block was 13th street and the west side was Juniper street.  Dual-track railroad lines ran east-west along the middle of Market street (main line) and north-south along the middle of Broad street, with sidings going into the depot building from the north and west sides.

The 1875 Philadelphia Atlas shows that Penn Square had been transformed from four green parklets into a massive structure of Public Buildings (the city hall).  The rail lines had disappeared from both north and south Broad streets and from east Market street, along with the sidings into the former freight depot, which is still shown as being owned by the PRR.  However, the rail lines on west Market street remained in place, with sidings into almost every adjacent block.  Kelley street was now spelled Kelly street, and the small block between it and Chestnut was filled with a dozen small properties.

The 1895 Philadelphia Atlas shows that Kelley/Kelly street had disappeared, and the small block to its south had been subsumed with the larger block to the north into John Wanamaker Dry Goods.  Meanwhile, the rail lines to the west of Penn Square had been taken out of the streets, and two full city blocks had been consolidated to form the Broad Street Station of the Pennsylvania Rail Road.

Note that for most of America's early history, the word "street" was commonly uncapitalized, as in the three preceding paragraphs.  The same was typically true of the word "church," and probably of other common words that nowadays are usually capitalized as part of the name of a specific place.

Churchyard of St. James the Less Episcopal Church, Philadelphia

On 23 November 1920, Rodman Wanamaker purchased lot 701 in the churchyard of St. James the Less, along with 18.5 additional lots and the ground between them and the stone wall.  This is presumably the area occupied by the Wanamaker Memorial Tower and Mausoleum.

The Wanamaker Organ

The organ has its own Website, with a long page about its technical aspects.  That includes a full paragraph about the Major Chimes as well as a section about The John Wanamaker Memorial Founder's Bell.

More Wanamaker history

From the Historical Marker Data Base:  A History of Wanamaker [1838-2020]

Another Wanamaker history and genealogy

On May 29, 1924, a single page of a local newspaper reported two interesting Wanamaker-related events:
"Direct cable to Europe from Philadelphia achieved" between Wanamaker's London and Philadelphia stores using rotary regenerative repeaters, being read by nobody between London and Philadelphia
Regiment to Parade, for 33rd year
Wanamaker's Battalions to Give Musical Rifle Drill
John Wanamaker Commercial Institute Cadet Regiment consists of a battalion of girls and one of boys and combined bands and field music, making nearly 600.

The Wanamakers' Lincoln-Liberty building has undergone several changes of name, including PNB (for Philadelphia National Bank) and One South Broad (as it is identified in an English Wikipedia article which has photos and history).  The PNB letters on the top were removed by helicopter in late 2014.

From the archives of the Presbyterian Historical Society (PCUSA):
Philadelphia, Bethany Presbyterian Church
Philadelphia, Chambers Memorial Chapel

Article on the Wanamaker building, including the 1876 drawing mentioned above

A two-part history of the church uses the name "St.James-the-less", but Wanamaker is mis-spelled in Part Two.

[Tower Bells Home Page] [Site data top page] [Credits and Disclaimers] [Feedback]

This page was created on 2023/01/16 and last revised on 2023/06/10.

Please send comments or questions about this page to csz_stl@swbell.net.