History | Festival of Bells | Early Foundry | C.S. Bell Products | Bell & WWII | C.S. Bell Today



Bishop Paulinus of Compagnia invented bells in 400 A.D.. They were not used in churches until some two hundred years later. A bell is described in the dictionary as “a hollow cup-shaped instrument that gives forth a clear, reso­nant note when struck with a clapper.” The world has been greatly benefited by the melodious tones of the bells manufactured locally by the C.S. Bell Company of Hillsboro, in our own Highland County.

Charles S. Bell, native of Cumberland, Md., was apprenticed to the founder’s trade in Pittsburgh, Pa. at the age of fifteen. After mastering the details of the trade, he eventually arrived in Hillsboro, a stranger with very little capital. He commenced the foundry business on a small scale, principally in the manufacture of cooking stoves of superior quality. By making a good reputation he soon found his business growing. The need for larger quarters became imperative.

In Jan., 1858, Bell purchased the Speedwell Foundry on W. Beech, being operated by Bitler and Clayton. He started work with one boy and a weekly expense of $7.00. In addition to stoves they began to make plow points and other castings.

In a few years a second foundry and showroom was built on the northwest corner of Main and West Sts. James K. Marlay became a partner and was placed in the showroom, while Bell operated the foundry. The following advertisement appeared in the newspaper when the new store opened:



Cane Mills, evaporators, sugar mill, C.S. Bells patent

Steam generators, plows and other agricultural machinery.

When making of sorghum syrup sprang up in the North, Bell designed a cane mill to meet the demand. The mill was very efficient, simple to operate, strong, cheap and very durable. It was equally well adapted to the southern sugar caner being grown on the small plantations.

Bell advertised for sale: “A cast center lever plow, 100 bells, made from the best materials at the foundry.” They also had on hand number of improved beehives and were prepared to pay cash for any amount of scrap iron.

In 1869 Bell purchased Marlay’s interest and continued to add various items to those he already sold and manufactured.

The pioneer Bell had a natural aptitude for metallurgy and continued to experiment with different formulas of iron, steel and other metals in his search to find an alloy cheaper and more durable than iron. Bell continued his experiments and his business continued to expand. One day he was busily engaged in the foundry working with a metal formula he had developed when he accidentally dropped a piece.

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To his great surprise he heard a ringing tone that “sounded like a bell.” He experimented, mixed ingredients, poured them carefully, cooled them just so, until he had a metal with bell tones. The allow or “peculiar amalgam” developed by Bell could be produced cheaper than brass, copper or tin which were being used in the manufacture of bells. Bell also discovered that the allow from which he made the bells could be pitched, with very mellow tone.

He began to manufacture other machinery in his shop, which included “Mogul” stoves, coffee pulpers, grinders, burr and hammer type food and feed grinding mills, cane and maple syrup evaporators and plows. He also made a “tortilla” used in Mexico to grind hominy from which “to make a popular hominy cake.” This particular grinder was painted a brick red and was in great demand until the color of paint was changed to green. Sales on the grinder fell to such a low point that a representative was sent to Mexico to find out the reason. The Mexicans vowed that the “green tortillas” were inferior and would not wear well. Needless to say, Bell changed the color back to red and regained the business.

The first year after the discovery of the bell formula, 1,000 bells were sold. The bells were made in different sizes, suited to farms, factories, taverns, schoolhouses, churches, etc. The greatest demand at that time was for the smallest size, which were especially adapted for farm use. They drove out the old tin-horn whose ear-piercing "tan-ta-ra-ra" was wont to call the farm folks from the fields to dinner, or on other occasions. In 1875 over 5,000 bells were sold and more than 700 mills, as well as other items. He employed some 30 hands during most of the year, who earned better than average wages.

In 1889 over 20,000 bells were manufactured and sold. They were sent out by horse-drawn wagons, by ship and by rail to all parts of the civilized world. Charles E. Bell, son of the founder, was taken into partnership in 1882 and the C.S. Bell Co. was formed. The son became a world traveler and built up outlets in many foreign countries. Orders poured in from South Africa, Brazil and Central America for cane mills and evaporators. Rice mills were shipped to China, feed and grinding mills, corn shellers, stoves and other items were shipped to all points of the compass.

By 1892 over 100 men were employed in the various departments in the new plant erected on a seven-acre tract of land at the edge of town. With the new facilities the C.S. Bell Co. produced 2,000 tons of bells, 400 tons of cane mills and 400 tons of other manufactured items per year. The company with its increased business was incorporated in 1894.

Charles S. Bell died in 1905. The business was continued by Charles E. Bell and Co. The sale of bells was slow, so the company again concentrated on the manufacture of laborsaving machinery for the farm. About 1,000 bells per year were produced. The members of the C.S. Bell Co. in 1912 were Charles E. Bell, president; Libby Boyd, vice president; Ernest W. Shumacher, treasurer; and Blair M. Boyd, secretary.  

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Virginia Bell, daughter of Charles E. Bell, obtained a good education, traveled extensively in Europe and spent some time in New York City. When her father died in 1929 the foundry was taken over by relatives. The business of the factory began a steady decline. Miss Bell gave up a theatrical career to return to Hillsboro. She gradually brought order out of chaos in her grandfather’s beloved bell foundry. The company was re-organized in 1934 with the following officers:

Joseph M. Gaites, president; Lloyd E. Shirley and Charles “Chuck”, son of Charles E. Bell, vice presidents; and Virginia Bell, secretary, treasurer and general manager.

The defense armament in pre-World War II days caused a shortage of metal especial­ly brass and copper used in most bells made by government contract. Virginia Bell learned that the Bureau of Ships was looking for a metal bell to substitute for the regulation bells. She loaded one of her grandfather’s “ferrous” bells in the car and drove to Washington. She personally obtained a contract from the Navy Department to furnish them certain types of bells.

The Bell Foundry began producing bells by the thousands. They were made for all classes of ships in the U.S. Navy, for the British Navy with “H.M.S.” on them and also for the Russian Navy. Dignitaries of the allied Navies arrived in Hillsboro to visit the largest bell foundry in the world. Flags were flown and many state and town of officials were on hand as a reception committee to welcome both British and high—ranking Russian officers.

Many references were made to the “Old Bell of ‘76” and how vividly the patriotic pen has pictured its sacred associations. How they had described the old sexton, leaving from the bell tower of Independence Hall, anxiously waiting the signal from below that a new nation had been born:

High in the belfry the old sexton stands,

Grasping the rope in his thin, bony hands.

Fixed in his gaze, as by some magic spell,

Till he hears the distant murmur, “Ring the Bell~”

In 1959 over 100 years after Charles Bell opened the small foundry on Beech St. the C.S. Bell Co. moved into an ultra-modern steel-fabricated concrete block plant. The streamlined new foundry whose products are sold in a worldwide market is located near the railroad at the western edge of Hillsboro. It is still considered a true example of American free enterprise. Virginia Bell (Mrs. John Thompson) managed the plant successfully from 1934 to 1969 when the factory was sold. When the new building was planned, they took into consideration railroad loading facilities, acreage for an airplane landing field with a motor outlet in U.S. 50.

Bell’s Foundry is one of the largest factories of its kind in the World today. From a small beginning in Hillsboro where his wife “baked” the early cores in the oven of their home, Charles Singleton Bell made his name synonymous with bells wherever one chooses to travel. Bell’s bells ring out their gladful tiding or their mournful tremors around the universe. The magnificent and melodious bells from Hillsboro have rung out their delightful tunes for over a century. Kindly their tones will con­tinue to mingle with our thoughts and our future for many years to come, for the bells produced were “strong, sturdy, and very durable.”  

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Early C.S. Bell Foundry
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C.S. Bell Products
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The C.S. Bell Mogul cast iron heating stove. I came across this at a woodworking shop south of Hillsboro. The owner said it was one of two that he knew of. The other one was the property of the Highland County Historical Society. He said he believed it was made to heat railroad caboose cars. Not a very pretty piece but looks like it would keep the inside of a caboose warm. 10/07/07
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C.S. Bell Goes to War
The following article appeared in Collier's Magazine, October 14, 1944

Eighty-odd years ago a lucky accident started this Hillsboro, Ohio foundry in the bell business. Today, because of a secret formula, their bells are on all our fighting ships.

     A girl with an idea, a secret formula and an old iron bell sold the United States Navy a bill of goods in 1942 which she is still delivering and which the Navy is now ringing around the world.

     Virginia Bell, executive director of the C.S. Bell Foundry of Hillsboro, Ohio, not only makes bells for battleships, cruisers, flat-tops, landing craft and all other classes of United States fighting ships, but she and her associates are now making bells for Uncle Sam's Merchant Marine and Lend-Lease commitments.

     After Pearl Harbor, when copper and tin really went to war, Virginia Bell went to work on an idea that has brought the sound of Ohio-made bells to every deep waterway of the world.

     It all started with an emergency order from Washington limiting the use of bronze and brass to actual combat essentials. This set her to musing: Something will have to be done. Ships are being built by the thousands. Ships need bells, and Navy bells are bronze. 

     Virginia Bell called a meeting of key men in the company that her grandfather, C.S. Bell, had founded in 1861. There was Jerry Wolfe, her production manager; brother Charles, the auditor; Bill Hall, now her "tone engineer"; Clarence Riggs, cupola tender; and a few molders, machinists and finishers.

     They all knew the story of how old C.S. Bell, who first started the plant casting grain grinding mills for farms, had accidentally dropped a piece of metal that rang with such resonant tone that he got the idea of making bells for churches, schools and farms. If bells could be made from iron, they could be sold for a fraction of the cost of a brass or bronze bell..... Note: at this point my source copy is too distorted to read. The article continues with.... He tried - with just a few for local use - and when he died in 1899, his company was shipping bells all over the world.

Virginia Bell announced her intentions to make bells for battleships and "other combat craft." Jerry Wolfe was dispatched to Washington to bring the Navy around to her way of thinking. 

     After the usual run-around, at last the production manager collared an admiral with aides, and came to the point at once: "We have been making bells for eighty years, and we don't use copper, tin or zinc. We use a secret formula which we call 'steel alloy,' and we've cast well over one million bells in our Hillsboro plant."

     His audience was unmistakably interested. What about the durability of these bells? The inquisition was on.

     Finally the admiral asked, "Can you cast bells to tone? You know we specify the tone required for each class of bell. Can you cast a large volume of bells of different sizes, each size with a specified tone?"

     The production manager had never tried it, but he believed it could be done. "Admiral, we can cast bells - to tone, size, weight and shape. We are ready for your specifications on a trial order."

     Since that day, the Bell foundry has cast more than 26,000 bells - for the Navy; for civilian defense; for the Maritime Commission and Lend-Lease.

     Sizes vary from 6-inch baby bells designed for all types of landing craft to 36-inch, 400 pound battleship watch bells.

     Bill Hall is the tone tester. "It's simple but exacting work," he says. "I used to be the percussion man in an orchestra. Naturally I'm tone-conscious, but I use a set of orchestra bells to verify my ears."

"Hatching a Kettle"

     Making bells requires precision casting. Everything has to be just right, and even then they sometimes "hatch a kettle."

     "A kettle," Hall explains, "is a nonringer. It has a harsh, metallic clang, but it will not ring. There is no tone, or sound vibrations, when it is struck. we have never been able to discover what causes a 'kettle.' It looks just like all other bells, it is made from the same metal, receives exactly the same treatment, yet - and when we least expect it - out comes a dud."

     Less than one percent of the bells now cast in the foundry turn out to be "kettles." 

     Steel-alloy bells have a strong, full ring, and although their tones are not quite as soft and musical as bronze bells, they are made of sturdier stuff; the sound will carry farther, and in heavy weather conditions, such as fog or snow, it will penetrate deeper.

     The formula for the metal is the firm's most closely guarded secret and its ingredients are known only to Miss Bell herself and to Old Clarence, the colored cupola tender who has been with the company almost as long as anybody in Hillsboro remembers. Whenever there is to be a melting, it is Old Clarence who loads the cupola; coke, pig iron and other ingredients are delivered to him by elevator. He shovels in the coke without assistance and loads the metal by hand. It started as a one-man job 83 years ago, and despite the present assembly-line methods of the foundry, this phase of operation is still just a one-man job.

     When ready, the metal is drawn off by a spout at the bottom. This molten metal is poured into ladles which - by hand or electric crane, according to size - are carried to the molds.

     Molds are made in sand which is shaped and packed around models built of wood. After casting, each bell is tested for tone, then put through several finishing processes, and finally ends up in the paint shop.

     Virginia Bell is particularly well equipped to carry on her family well equipped to carry on her family's concern. She has been a student of bells for most of her life, and has an extensive library on the legends, casting, ringing, history and uses of bells. She has retained the firm's traditions, methods and policies, with one exception: At his death, her grandfather was known as an agnostic. Today the Reverend Ignatius F. Lee, a Hillsboro Presbyterian circuit rider and former American Legion state chaplain spends his spare time inspecting the bells and blessing them when they are packed and ready to go into battle.

C.S. Bell Today

Thank you for providing such a wonderful archive. For years we have been referring customers and history
inquiries to your site.
We would like to see the "NOTE" at the bottom of the article reflect the fact that The C. S. Bell Company very
much exists.  Our headquarters and manufacturing plant operate in Northwest Ohio since the company's  purchase in 1973-74.
While the bell segment of the product line was sold and moved to: 

    Prindle Station

    Attn: Peter Wilson
    22 Prindle Station Road/ P.O. Box 347
    Washougal, WA 98671
we continue to manufacture and market worldwide the Grist Mill,  Hammer Mill and Corn Sheller product lines as well as other equipment.  A full review can be seen on our website: www.csbellco.com


Perhaps a link to Prindle Station for those interested in bells and a link to C. S. Bell for those interested in the Grist Mill, Hammer Mill and Corn Sheller product line would be of benefit to your sites visitors?
Again, thank you for your interesting article.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact us toll-free at 888-958-6381.
Daniel P. White
VP, Market Operations (3/21/2005)

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