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C.S.Bell and his bellfoundry

When was my bell made? is the most common question asked by owners of postmount farm bells and other cast steel bells.  Probably that's because those bells typically are not dated (as cast bronze bells usually are).  However, in the case of bells which obviously came from Hillsboro, Ohio, it is at least possible to determine the time period within which the bell must have been made.  That is because the name of the firm changed as follows:

Name Years of operation Type of Operation
C. S. Bell 1875 - 1882 Single proprietorship
C. S. Bell & Co. 1882 - 1894 Partnership
The C. S. Bell Co. 1894 - 1970s Corporation
    In all cases, the maker's name appears not on the bell itself,
    as it usually does for bronze bells, but on the yoke from which the bell is hung.

Postmount steel bells from this source cannot be dated more precisely than that.  Larger steel bells (those supported by a pair of side frames) can sometimes be dated by looking at the inside of the bell.  For some years, foundry crews were in the habit of stamping a date code on the inside mold of a bell before casting it. 

Who made my bell? is the next most common question asked by owners of bells.  If it has any of the variants of "C.S.Bell" shown above, then it was almost certainly made by Charles Singleton Bell or the company which he began in Hillsboro, Ohio.  However, if the bell shows no significant signs of use, then it could be a modern reproduction from some other source.  Note that not all bells manufactured by this company bore one of these names, because some were sold through catalog houses or other retail channels; those bells either were unlabelled or bore the name of the retailer. 

Editor's Note:   The framed text below is a slightly revised version of the principal content of a page which formerly appeared on the Website of the City of Hillsboro, Ohio.  It is presented here for the convenience of those who wish to know a little of the history of the former C.S.Bell firm of that city. 

 

Festival of the Bells

            Annually the City of Hillsboro, Ohio, sponsors a festival near the fourth of July.  This is known as the Festival of the Bells, and commemorates Hillsboro's heritage as a major bell producer.

bell by C.S.Bell             The Festival of the Bells celebrated each July in Hillsboro, Ohio, is an outgrowth of a successful 1976 Bicentennial Celebration of the founding of our country.  When local citizens were searching for a permanent name for a yearly celebration, it was noted that at one time Hillsboro was famous for the production of steel alloy bells, which were shipped around the world.  In addition to church, school, farm and mission bells (one of these was listed among the "Bells That Changed The World" used on Molokai Island by Fr. Damien to call his stricken lepers to worship), there were thousands of Invasion Bells used on U.S. Navy ships during the invasion of Normandy June 6, all manufactured by our local C.S. Bell Company.  The huge bell in front of the Highland County Historical Society, on Main Street, was a mate to the largest bell ever cast by the foundry.  It was used in a parade when the town was 100 years old and again at the celebration of the Sesquicentennial in 1957.  During the war years it was used to sell bonds and finally to ring the glad tidings of peace.

bust of C.S.Bell              Charles Singleton Bell was born in Cumberland, Maryland on February 7, 1828.  After completing a common school education he went to Pittsburgh to learn the foundry business from his uncle, Alexander Bradley.  He came to Ohio to take charge of the Whitley Foundry in Springfield and later moved on to Dayton.  On January 7, 1858, he began the operation of his own company in Hillsboro.  Starting with two employees and a weekly payroll of $7.00, they processed 8 tons of pig iron the first year.  The early foundry was located in a frame building near the B & O Railroad Depot.  A few years later, a second foundry was built on the corner of Main and North West Streets.  James K. Marley became a partner and ran the showroom while Mr. Bell operated the foundry.  In 1869, Bell purchased Marley's interest and continued to add more items to his list of products, which were to include Mogul stoves, caboose stoves, coffee hullers and pulpers, grinders, corn and cob crushers, burr and hammer typed feed mills, a machine called the "Tortilla" (used in Mexico and South America to grind hominy), sorghum and maple syrup evaporators, plows and garden rollers, and the "Perfection" cane mill made to be sold by the Montgomery Ward Company.

            The manufacture of bells began in 1875.  Sales for the first year came to something over 1,000 units.  By 1890, sales had increased to over 20,000 and fifteen sizes were being produced.  The bells were divided into two classes, farm bells weighing from 40 to 100 pounds each, and school and church bells known as "steel alloy bells" weighing from 150 to 1,000 pounds.  Mr. Bell experimented with formulas of various metals searching for an alloy cheaper to produce than brass, but more durable than iron.  After many failures he was successful and discovered that his alloy could be pitched to create a very mellow tone.  It was this tone and durability that made his bells famous throughout the world.

            Mr. Bell was a prominent citizen of Hillsboro, and is still regarded as one of the town's greatest benefactors.  He built Bell's Opera House in 1895, at a cost of $40,000.  He was a stockholder in the McKeehan and Hiestand Wholesale Company, the Merchants National Bank, a partner in a hardware firm with John McCoppin, and served on the Village Council and Board of Education for many years.  In 1887, Mr. Bell was appointed chairman of a committee to establish a library, The Hillsboro Reading Room, which was located on the second floor of the Town Hall.  In January 1880, the Columbus and Maysville Railroad Company was organized in Hillsboro with C.S. Bell as President.  In 1848, Mr. Bell married Mary Louisa Roberts.  They were the parents of five children.  Charles E., Alice Morton who married L.B. Boyd, John who died in 1891, Cora E. and May.  Between 1882 and 1885, the Bell family built "Clover Lawn" a three story brick mansion located on Oak Street, currently being renovated by the Odland Family who suggested the theme of The Festival of the Bells.

            For a time, sales of the bells slowed so the company again concentrated on manufacturing labor saving farm machinery until defense contracts prior to World War II caused a shortage of brass and copper.  Hearing that the Bureau of Ships was looking for a metal substitute, Virginia Bell took one of her grandfathers alloy bells to Washington D.C. and personally obtained a contract.  The Bell foundry manufactured all ship's bells for the United States, Great Britain and their allies during the war.
Editor's Note:   The assertion in the previous sentence seems highly unlikely, since bronze bells were always used for capital ships, even in wartime.  However, it is possible that the C.S.Bell foundry made all bells for certain classes of small ships for the United States during the war, or all bells for ships produced by certain shipyards.  I have not yet seen evidence of the survival of any steel ships' bells.

  This online document is a slightly edited version of the original direct representation of a brochure made possible through the combined efforts of the Highland County Historical Society and the Festival of The Bells Committee.

 

 

farm bell - logo of C.S.Bell company The modern descendant of this firm bears the same name, but has moved to Tiffin, in northwest Ohio.  It retains the logo of its predecessor, a drawing of a cast steel postmount farm bell (shown here).  However, all rights to the manufacture of bells were sold many years ago, and the company no longer is in that business.

An expanded version of the history cited above is now available on the Website of Greenfield, Ohio, located (as Hillsboro is) in Highland County.  This version is only slightly better than that above with respect to corporate names.  (Some of those given have never been found by Your Editor on steel bells, for example.)  However, it seems likely that the transition from "C.S.Bell" to "C.S.Bell & Co." would have taken place in 1882, when Charles Singleton Bell took into partnership his son, Charles E. Bell.  The second change of name, to "The C.S.Bell Co.", took place.when the firm was incorporated.

Note that the same Webpage which presents that expanded version of the C.S.Bell history also includes the text of an article which appeared in Collier's Magazine, October 14, 1944, followed by a letter from the present-day C.S.Bell Company detailing the sale of the bell segment of the product line to Prindle Station.  The modern reproductions of small steel bells which are produced by Prindle Station are easily distinguished from the original products of C.S.Bell.


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This page was created 2004/09/06 and last revised 2014/02/05.

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