The thunderous sound of ringing bells echoes through the Verdin Co.’s 130,000-square-foot factory in Cincinnati, Ohio. Satisfied with the bells’ rich tones, Dave Verdin uses hand gestures to signal an employee to cease ringing the bells. The cast bronze instruments, which weigh from 1,000 to 8,000 pounds each, are bound for a monastery in St. Benedict, Ore.
“The smaller the bell, the faster it rings,” says Verdin, the company’s vice president. “We must get them to ring in a uniform pattern.”
Testing the bells is all in a day’s work for some of the 130 employees at America’s oldest and largest bell and carillon company, and Ohio’s oldest family-owned manufacturing business.
The Verdin Co. dates back to 1842, the year French immigrant brothers François and Michael Verdin installed a tower clock at Old St. Mary’s Church in Cincinnati. The brothers soon began producing bells and carillons, which now ring at thousands of churches across the nation.
Today, the company is led by a fifth generation: cousins Bob, 73, Dave, 64, and Jim Verdin, 71, who grew up working at the family business, spending their summers installing bells and clocks. The men take pride in the fact that the business has remained in the family for 165 years. “It is one of my top priorities to see that it continues,” says company President Jim Verdin, noting that each cousin has a child working at Verdin.
Since taking over the business in 1971, the cousins have looked for opportunities to expand. “About 10 years ago, we needed a succession plan,” Jim says. “We had to take the idea of the bell and the clock and turn it into different markets—not just churches.”
As a result, the company broadened its reach by manufacturing bronze memorials and clock and bell towers for colleges, municipalities, shopping centers and corporations. With more than 35,000 installations, Verdin products can be found across America, including a bronze veteran’s memorial in Tunica, Miss.; bells at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana; street clocks at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.; and the world’s largest, free-swinging bell: the 66,000-pound World Peace Bell in Newport, Ky.
Despite its rapid growth, the Verdin Co. has maintained a tight-knit group of loyal employees. In fact, many workers have been with Verdin for more than two decades, including Pete Bolton, who has designed the company’s various products for 22 years. “We have a good nucleus of long-term people who are very talented,” says Bolton, 61. “When they are given a job, they know what to do, and they do it.”
“Our productivity and enthusiasm are high,” Jim Verdin says, “and our employees are dedicated to the company.”
Dedication is crucial to their business, with projects ranging from small street clocks that take 60 days to manufacture and install for about $23,000, to custom bell towers that can require a full year to build and cost more than $1 million.
Still, Verdin is best known for its famed bells. That’s why in 2003, the Ohio Bicentennial Commission asked Verdin to help the state celebrate its 200th anniversary. In response, the company created the Bell Foundry on Wheels, a mobile factory that traveled for three years to each of Ohio’s 88 counties, casting bells and installing them on location.
The Verdin Co. will have a similar opportunity next year when its mobile foundry travels to 100 American cities to honor the nation’s returning troops. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the project will spearhead various fund-raising programs, such as miniature bell sales, with proceeds benefiting veterans’ hospitals and mental health facilities. “These bells will ring on patriotic holidays, long after I am gone,” Jim says.
It’s a program that the Verdin family is proud to take part in, knowing that they’ll bring immediate help to military veterans and keep the Verdin name ringing for generations.
Lori B. Murray is a writer in Columbus, Ohio.