History of American Bell Foundries

| Documentary History of American Carillons | Chronological List of Carillons in the United States | Import Tariffs on Bells and Carillons |

At least five bell foundries in America have installed traditional carillons. 

The first bells made in the United States were cast at the Litchfield, Connecticut foundry established by Benjamin Hanks in 1785 or 1786.  Around 1808 he and his son Julius established a foundry in Gibbonsville (later West Troy and Watervliet), New York initially under the name Benjamin Hanks & Son and later by Julius Hanks as sole proprietor.

 Connecticut Courant, September 21, 1808, Page 4. Northern Budget (Troy NY), December 11, 1810, Page 5. Statesman (New York, NY), June 25, 1824, Page 4.

Hanks moved across the river to Troy in 1825 and sold the business to his brothers Alpheus and Truman in 1830.  Bell-making ceased shortly thereafter and the firm focused on making instruments.  Andrew Meneely had been an apprentice for Julius Hanks in his foundry and after Hanks moved across the river to Troy Meneely bought his shop in Gibbonsville and established his own business.

Cleveland Daily Advertiser, February 1, 1831, Page 3.  Albany Argus, July 8, 1831, Page 1.  Albany Argus, March 20, 1835, Page 3.

Meneely became ill and he took his foreman Jonas Volkert Oothout as a partner from 1836 to 1841, after which Meneely became sole proprietor.  He took on his son Edwin Andrew Meneely as a partner in 1849 under the name Andrew Meneely & Son.

 Albany Argus, April 1, 1836, Page 3. New York Tribune, October 20, 1843, Page 1.

Meneely died on October 30, 1851, after which Edwin's brother George Rodney Meneely also became a partner in the firm, now known as Andrew Meneely's Sons.  The sons renamed the firm E.A. & G.R. Meneely in 1863.   George withdrew from the firm in 1874 and was replaced by Edwin's oldest son, Andrew H. Meneely.  The firm's name became Meneely & Company until it closed in 1951 due to government restrictions on metal use during the Korean War.  Andrew Meneely's youngest son, Clinton, started a bell foundry in Troy in June 1870 with George H. Kimberly.  This firm was renamed in 1879 as the Clinton H. Meneely Bell Company then later as the Meneely Bell Company.  The two companies competed vigorously and often bitterly, with an 1875 court case deciding that each firm was entitled to use the name Meneely.

Albany Evening Journal, January 6, 1852, Page 4.  Methodist (New York NY), May 30, 1863, Page 8  Troy Daily Times, May 21, 1874, Page 4.

The Meneely/Watervliet foundry began experimenting with two-point tuning around 1900, and soon was tuning the five principal partial tones of their bells.  It was this tuning capability that enabled them to produce the first American-made carillon in 1928 for the St. James’ Episcopal Church in Danbury, Connecticut.  Others were installed at the Trinity Evangelical and Reformed Church, originally in Philadelphia, later moved to Holland, Pennsylvania, the Congregational Church in Storrs, Connecticut, an electric instrument at the duPont estate 'Nemours'.in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Washington Memorial National Carillon, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.. 

Andrew E. Meneely of the Watervliet foundry testified at a congressional tariff hearing in 1929 about his firm's work in tuning bells and supplying a carillon in Danbury, Connecticut, proving that American bell foundries could produce quality carillons.

The competing foundry in Troy produced only one carillon for a 1941 installation at the Deeds Carillon in Dayton, Ohio. 

Both foundries went out of business in 1952 due to restrictions on metal during the Korean War.

Wikipedia page for both foundries. 

The Buckeye Bell Foundry was established in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1837, by George W. Coffin.  He produced by far the most ornately decorated bells of any American bellfounder, but almost all of them were small- to medium-sized single bells.  That foundry name was maintained throughout more than a century of operation, in spite of various changes in proprietorship.  By 1896, ownership had been reorganized as The E.W.Vanduzen Company.  The company ceased operation in 1951 and was bought by Verdin in 1955. 

History of Vanduzen at Chime Master

J. Prower Symons cast 25 bells at the E. W. Vanduzen Company in Cincinnati for a carillon he installed at the Community of the Transfiguration in Glendale, Ohio in 1933.

Van Bergen
In 1939, H.T. van Bergen brought two carillons to display at the New York World's Fair that were cast in the family foundry in the Netherlands.  One non-traditional carillon was installed at the Dutch Reformed Seminary in New Brunswick, N.J. and the other was installed at Callie Self Memorial Church in Greenwood, S.C. At that time, Holland was at war, and the van Bergens were unable to return home. After World War II, van Bergen Bellfoundries, Inc. established a bellfoundry in America that produced smaller tuned bells, while larger bells were still imported from the foundry in Holland.  The American foundry was sold to Verdin in January 1997

Notable van Bergen installations from that period include The Citadel, St. Martin's Church, University of Montana, the Concordia Seminary, and the recasting of 56 bells for the Riverside Church in New York City. The larger bells for each of these were cast in the Netherlands. 

Meeks, Watson and Company
Richard M. Watson founded Meeks, Watson & Company with Mr. William Meeks in June, 1991, making possible the fulfillment of a longtime desire to return the art of casting and tuning new carillon-quality bells to North America. Since that time, the company has furnished the highest quality American-made bells to all parts of the U. S., Canada and the Caribbean.

In addition to substantial repair, renovation, and addition work for existing carillons, the company has installed complete carillons at Principia College, Penn State Behrend, and Salisbury University.

See the company's web site at mwbells.com   

Verdin was founded by French immigrants Francis de Sales and Michael Verdin, who came to Cincinnati 1835 and started the company in 1842.  The company has sold, installed, serviced, and expanded many carillons, but as far as is known has never cast a bell installed in a traditional carillon.   Verdin was for many years the American representative of the Petit & Fritsen bellfoundry of the Netherlands, and since the closure of P&F it has been the American representative of the Eijsbouts bellfoundry of the Netherlands.  Since 2003, Verdin has had the capability of casting single bells for ceremonial or memorial purposes.

Verdin Company web site | The Verdin Company (wikipedia)

The B.A. Sunderlin Bellfoundry has been in business since 2015.  

The company cast a 55-bell carillon for the North Carolina State University

1788 "Bell-Foundery," Hartford Courant, March 3, 1788, Page 4.
The subscriber informs the public, that he proposes to carry on the business of casting BELLS for Churches, in Partnership with Mr. Enos Doolittle of Hartford.  Having had considerable success in that branch, and cast Bells (weighing 2400 lb) equal to any imported, doubts not he can give satisfaction to those who may please to employ him.  The Bells will be warranted, and sold on the most reasonable terms. Apply to said Enos Dooittle, or Jesse Goodyear.
Hartford, Feb. 1787.

1791 Windham Herald, August 20, 1791
On Saturday last was completed, a very elegant Bell, of about 700 lb. Weight, cast by the ingenious Mr. Benjamin Hanks, of Mansfield, for the __fe of that town. Though the business of Bell Foundery has been considerably practiced in this country of late years, yet the ingenuity of Mr. Hanks in this branch is so conspicuous in crafting this Bell, that we dare announce he can equal, of not exceed European Manufacture. We hope that the meritorious _______ of this gentleman to render himself useful to his country, will meet with a proper reward.

1851 Andrew Meneely (May 19, 1802 - October 14, 1851) grave in Albany County, New York

1852 A Memoir of Andrew Meneely ...: A Ruling Elder in the Reformed Dutch Church of West Troy, N.Y., by Oscar H. Gregory
Chapter III:  The Bell Founder

1856 Andrew Meneely's Sons, West Troy, N.Y., bell-founders : proprietors of the old established "Troy Bell Foundry," who manufacture to order chimes of bells of any number, and alarm bells of any weight : who also manufacture, and keep constantly on hand, a large assortment of church, academy, factory, depot, steamboat, ship, locomotive, plantation, hose [sic] carriage, and other bells, by Meneely Bell Foundery.; Andrew Meneely's Sons.; Troy Bell Foundry.

1863 Andrew Meneely's Sons, bell-founders, West Troy, N.Y. : successors, in 1850, to the celebrated foundery of Andrew Meneely, established in 1826 : who manufacture to order chimes of bells of any number, and alarm bells of any weight : who also manufacture, and keep constantly on hand, a large assortment of church, academy, factory, depot, steamboat, ship, locomotive, plantation, fire-engine, and other bells.

1866 "Meneely's Bell Foundry," Troy Daily Times, June 30, 1866, Page 1. 

1873 List of chimes and peals that have been made at the Meneely Bell Foundery, with testimonials relating thereto, Meneely Bell Company

1873 E.A. & G.R. Meneely, bell-founders, West Troy, N.Y. (opposite Troy) : proprietors, since 1851, of the well-known foundery established by their father in 1826, who manufacture to order, and have for sale, a variety of church, academy, factory, depot, fire alarm, steamboat, ship, locomotive, plantation, fire-engine, and other bells : as also chimes and peals, by Friedrich Schiller and E.A. & G.R. Meneely.

1875 Meneely v. Meneely, 62 N.Y. 427, September 21, 1875 · New York Court of Appeals

1876 Meneely & Company, Bell-founders, West Troy, N.Y. (opposite Troy): Proprietors, Since 1851, of the Well-known Foundery Established by Andrew Meneely in 1826; who Manufacture to Order, and Have for Sale, a Variety of Church, Academy, Factory, Depot, Fire Alarm, Steamboat, Ship, Locomotive, Plantation, Fire-engine and Other Bells; as Also Chimes and Peals

1878 Meneely & Kimberly, Troy, N.Y., Manufacturers of Church, academy, tower clock, factory, chime, courthouse, fire-alarm & other bells by Clinton H. Meneely and George H. Kimberly

1880 History of Rensselaer County, New York, by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester
Pages 225-226:  The Bell-Foundries of Troy

1895 The E.W. Vanduzen Co. Catalogue No. 19 | also here |
The Greatest Bell Foundry in America

1895  Meneely tubular bearings for steam, electric and cable cars: a few convincing facts showing their superiority over ordinary bearings in ease of movement, economy, durability, general efficiency : the Meneely Bearing Company, West Troy, N.Y., U.S.A., the Canada Switch Manufacturing Co., Ltd., manufacturing agents for Canada, Montreal, P.Q by Meneely Bearing Company

1898 Meneely Bell Company, successors of Clinton H. Meneely Bell Company, Troy, N.Y. : manufacturers of church, academy, tower-clock, factory, chime, court-house, fire-alarm, and other bells, mounted in the most approved manner and fully warranted, by Meneely Bell Company

1900 The old Meneely foundry, Meneely & Company

1912 Meneely Bell Co. : manufacturers of church, chime, academy, tower-clock, court-house, fire-alarm, factory and other bells. Mounted in the most approved manner and fully warranted, by Meneely Bell Company

1913 Meneely bells: [catalog], Meneely Bell Company.

1920 Meneely Bell Co.: designers and founders of church, chime academy, tower-clock, court-house, fire-alarm, factory and other bells. Mounted in the most approved manner and fully warranted, Menelly Bell Company.

1922 Bells, peals and chimes for churches, academies, school-houses, court-houses, tower-clocks, fire-alarms, plantations, factories, steamboats, ships, and for other purposes : catalogue no. 20 D, The E. W. Vanduzen Co.

1926 Carillons:  The Carillon to be Imported by the Park Avenue Baptist Church, New York, Senate Document No. 118, 69th Congress, 1st Session, May 21, 1926 | pdf |
Pages 1-11:  Letter of Mr. Frederick C. Mayer, organist and choirmaster, United States Military Academy

1926 "Old Watervliet Bell Foundry Has Manufactured Famous Chimes Over a Period of 100 Years," Schenectady Gazette, July 1, 1926, Page 21.

1929 Tariff Readjustment - 1929, Hearings, February 18-19, 1929, Schedule 14 - Sundries
Pages 7819-7877:  Carillons (Par 1443) | pdf |

1931 Meneely bells, by Meneely Bell Company.

1933 "The Carillon," by John Prower Symons, Bethany Home Chronicle (June - October 1933)
"An address read before the Southern Ohio Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, at Bethany Home, Glendale, Ohio, May 15, 1933, and published in the June, Sept. and Oct. 1933 numbers of the Bethany Home Chronicle". In three parts. 

1934 "Song of the Carillons," The Cincinnati Post, February 7, 1934, Page 9.
J. Prower Symons, Who Plays at Bethany, Grew Up With Bells Abroad.

1937 Meneely Bell Co.: designers and founders of church, chime academy, tower-clock, court-house, fire-alarm, factory and other bells. Mounted in the most approved manner and fully warranted, by Meneely Bell Company, Troy, New York

1937 John Prower Symons (24 Nov 1870 - 21 Dec 1937) grave

1940 "A Tribute to the late John Prower Symons," by Percival Price, Bulletin of the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America 1:12 (October 1940)
In 1933 he dropped into my study in Ottawa, on his way back from Mechlin, and showed me a large amount of music he had learned to play.  Shortly after, he "borrowed" the old Van Deusen foundry in Cincinnati, cast twenty-five bells, and tuned them himself. They were placed in the Episcopal Convent of the Transfiguration at Glendale, north of that city.

1946 "Bells, Bells, Bells," by Jack Sher and John Keating, Washington Evening Star, November 17, 1946, Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 38 |

1947 "Ringer:  Industry Chimes in Carolina Carillon," The Gastonia Gazette, November 19, 1947, Page 13.
Harry T. Van Bergen opens facility in Greenwood, S.C.

1951 "Carillon History in St. Petersburg Started With Meneelys Back in 1785," Tampa Bay Times, November 3, 1951, Page 15.

1952 “Metal lack halts Meneely Plants,” Albany Times Union, February 22, 1952, Page 9.
The historic Meneely bell foundries of Troy and Watervliet are suspending operations, the victims of the metal shortage, and both plants are for sale it was learned yesterday.

1952 "Bell Foundry Buildings To Be Sold," The Times Record (Troy, New York), February 22, 1952, Page 11.

1952 "Bell Firm Forced to Close," The Times Record (Troy, New York), February 23, 1952, Page 10.

1979 "Van Bergen bells ring on three continents," The Index-Journal, February 2, 1979, Page 10.

1994 "The Bell Foundries of Troy," by George Hanks, Jr., Hanks historical review 4(1):1-24 (January 1994)

2002 "Discovery of a Benjamin Hanks Bell," Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter 38(5) (September 2002)

2002 "The Bell Casters of Troy," by Sydney Ross | pdf |

2010 "Bell Founding in the Upper Hudson River Valley," Edward T. Howe, The Hudson River Valley Review 26(2):53-68 (Spring 2010)

2011 "A History of the van Bergen Bellfounders," by Harmannus (Harry) Hero van Bergen, Bulletin of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America 60:32-39 (2011)

2016 Large Bells of America: History of Church Bells, Fire Bells, School Bells, Dinner Bells and Their Foundries, by Neil Goeppinger

2017 "Tone of success: bell maker Verdin Co. celebrates 175 years of music, creativity and flexibility," WCPO, August 25, 2017

2020 "The Bellfounders," by Krista Pfunder, Chesapeake Bay Magazine, April 30, 2020
Sunderlin Bellfoundry

2020 "Ring in the New," by Markus Schmidt, Virginia Living, September 11, 2020
Sunderlin Bellfoundry

2021 Clinton Meneely’s 1935 speech, by Bill Hibbert
Presented at Schenectady, N. Y., to the combined societies of American Mechanical and Electrical Engineers on the evening of February 28, 1935, by Clinton Meneely of the Meneely Bell Co., Troy, N. Y.
The policy of the Troy Foundry was not to tune bells.  Instead of tuning his bells, Clinton Meneely relied on exact profiles and if necessary cast again and again until he achieved the desired result.

Bell Casting in Troy:  A Family Affair, by Charles Skinner

Meneely bell foundries (Wikipedia)

Benjamin Hanks (Wikipedia)

Meneely Bell Foundries (Troy & Watervliet), finding aid, Bok Tower Gardens

Meneely Foundry Historical Marker and Photographs

© 2022 Morris A. Pierce