British royalty landed in Philadelphia during the country’s bicentennial. It was Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip’s first and only visit to the home of American liberty. Here, St. Joseph’s University Professor Randall M. Miller recalls the occasion.
There were a lot of festivities planned for the American bicentennial—not just for the occasion but also to celebrate Philadelphia. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip stopped here on July 6, 1976, for the official presentation of the Bicentennial Bell (a replica of the Liberty Bell) as part of a six-city tour. Planners saw this as an opportunity to push for a “New Philadelphia”: new buildings, new designs, a new sense of purpose and excitement. The high point was when the queen and Prince Philip arrived on their royal yacht, the Britannia, and visited the original Liberty Bell, followed by the presentation of a new bell that was cast at the same site as the original. This was going to be the Bicentennial Bell, the UK’s great gift to America. Queen Elizabeth being here captured a sense of unity—it was the first time the British monarch had visited, and she embodied that spirit, embodied that connection. She had her own style, and she knew how to play to the crowds. The people were mad over the queen, in a good sense. During this time, there was a real swell of pride, not just for her visit but because Philadelphia’s history is essential to the American story. The city’s transformation didn’t begin with the bicentennial, but that’s when it really took off: From then on, [there were] cleaner streets, new cultural institutions, improvement projects—all these events helped to change Philadelphia’s image. It was a long process, but we seized the right moment to begin our city’s transformation, which the past 40 years have proven.