- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

A Kentucky businessman wanted the biggest free-swinging bell in the world, so he called Verdin Co. Kellogg Co. wanted a glockenspiel featuring cereal characters Snap, Crackle and Pop. Verdin got the call.
The nearly 170-year-old Verdin has grown from a clock repair business to a company bringing in about $20 million a year installing bells, tower clocks, street clocks, carillons and glockenspiels. Its work can be found in more than 30,000 cities, universities and churches around the world.
Three fifth-generation cousins Jim, Robert and David Verdin own the company founded by Francois de Sales Verdin, who emigrated to the United States from France about 1835. His first clock installation in America was at Old St. Mary's Church in Cincinnati in 1842, which the company considers its founding date.
"Our family started this thing mainly as a clock repair business," company President Jim Verdin said. But the Verdins found new markets as innovation and industry changed the country.
"When electricity came in, one of them happened to be inventive enough to figure out a way to automatically wind the weights back up, instead of going up [in the clock tower] every seven days to wind them by hand which was a very clever thing," Mr. Verdin said.
The company's clocks, ranging from traditional to modern styles, are found on downtown streets and outside hotels and shopping malls.
Verdin's 100 employees handle custom jobs some of them huge.
The World Peace Bell, which hangs in Newport, Ky., had to be produced specially for the northern Kentucky heavy-equipment mogul who commissioned it.
"Wayne Carlisle came in and said, 'I want the biggest [free-swinging] bell in the world,'" Mr. Verdin said.
At that time, the biggest was a 56,000-pounder in a church in Munich.
"We said, to be on the safe side, let's go to 66,000 pounds," Mr. Verdin said. "Then we designed it, and in order to be 66,000 pounds it was going to be about 12 feet wide and 12 feet high."
Verdin discovered a foundry in France and cast the bell there.
"Most of our bells come from Holland, some from France," Mr. Verdin said. "Only recently did we actually start casting bells. Our fathers used to say, 'We're really not bell makers; we should stick to what we know.'"
Then there was the 2,000-pound, 40-foot diameter ceiling clock in the rotunda of a Lexington, Ky., library. Philanthropist and horse owner Lucille Caudill Little wanted to donate the clock as a memorial to her husband, W. Paul Little, and to a family friend, Charles H. Jett.
"The idea came to me in a dream," Mrs. Little said.
To make that dream come true, Verdin had to solve several problems. Traditional hour and minute hands would be impractical, because they would have to be about 15 feet long and would sag under the weight, Mr. Verdin said.
While driving home from Lexington, he hit upon the idea of using one horse for each minute, lighting in succession to give the appearance of a race around the dial.
"That was a fun one to do," Mr. Verdin said. "The exciting part about that is that it looks like it has always been there."
Bells, historically paired with clocks, have become a big part of Verdin Co.'s business. When fire destroyed the Old Capitol dome at the University of Iowa in November 2001, Verdin was called to replace the 137-year-old bell that tolled 20 times a day to signal the start and end of classes.
The university wanted a bell cast in the same period as the one that was destroyed. Verdin had one in its inventory.
"We looked all over the country for a replacement bell," said Gary Nagle, the university's project manager. "We had 15 to 20 people offering bells of all sizes, but none fit as well as the one the Verdin Company had. They cleaned it up and put an inscription on it for us… and now it's hanging up in the bell tower."
Verdin also builds bell towers or carillons start to finish, like one at Miami University two years ago.
Richard Gegner, a retired teacher, church organist, and part-time Verdin employee, has been carillonneur in the Cincinnati suburb of Mariemont since 1968. The old-fashioned carillon he plays has a beautiful sound, but Mr. Gegner says it is hard work.
"On a warm day, you can work up quite a sweat," he said.

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