- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003


Most people watch football for the touchdown passes or dramatic goal-line stands. Ray Giesse likes to see the referees blow their whistles.

He owns American Whistle Corp., the only major U.S. manufacturer of metal whistles.

“My friends and my wife laugh at me because I’m the only one who zooms in on the whistle,” Mr. Giesse said. “I can’t even pass a police officer on the street without looking.”

Mr. Giesse bought the privately held company, then called Colsoff Manufacturing Co., 15 years ago after working as a sales manager for a trucking firm and dabbling in real estate. Colsoff Manufacturing, whose owner had become ill, was struggling at the time.

“We thought it was a unique market, and we thought we had identified why the business had deteriorated,” Mr. Giesse said.

First, Mr. Giesse tackled marketing, which he said was the company’s biggest problem. “We approached a variety of new markets that hadn’t been approached before,” such as retail stores, he said. The company’s biggest market had been sporting goods distributors.

The change in strategy worked. “Our first order was for 5,000 whistles,” Mr. Giesse said.

Under Mr. Giesse’s watch, the company has grown from producing about 70,000 whistles the first year to about 1 million annually. Its competition comes mainly from manufacturers in foreign countries, including Japan, Taiwan, China and England.

American Whistle produces traditional metal whistles, which retail for $2 to $4, and it also makes custom designs for the cost of manufacturing a die and a minimum of 240 whistles. A die costs $360 but can be used to cast several million whistles, Mr. Giesse said.

Mr. Giesse renamed the company because he wanted people to identify with the fact that the whistles were made in America. He is the company’s president and chief executive officer and his wife, Diane Serraglio, is vice president. There are nine other employees.

American Whistle has landed some high-profile accounts, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which Mr. Giesse calls the company’s biggest customer. He declined to provide sales figures, but credits the discounter’s agreement to buy whistles in 1990 with bringing in much-needed regular business for his firm.

The company also creates the NFL commemorative gold-plated whistles for the officiating crew at the Super Bowl each year. Since the league doesn’t have an official whistle, referees must use whistles they purchase themselves, said Mike Pereira, the league’s director of officiating.

American Whistle has provided the Super Bowl whistles for nearly a decade. Each whistle has the Super Bowl logo and the referee’s initials.

“That, quite frankly, is one of the mementos that most of the guys cherish more than any of the other things,” said NFL official Bill Carollo, who was the head referee during the last Super Bowl. “The whistle is not only a piece of our official equipment, it symbolizes control on the field.”

The Los Angeles Police Department uses the company’s custom whistles in its community safety program.

Officer Tanya Hanamaikai said people can’t get enough of the metal whistles, which are stamped with the department’s badge.

“They love it,” Officer Hanamaikai said. “They think it’s something totally special, and it is. It’s not like anything else the LAPD has.”

The whistles start as coiled ribbons of brass that are fed into a press that cuts two pieces: a top piece that looks like a square with Mickey Mouse ears attached and a rectangle for the bottom.

The pieces are bent by machine before going into a custom-designed soldering machine. A single worker sits at the machine, slides together the top and bottom pieces and drops them onto a conveyor that feeds several rotating spindles. As the spindles turn, pieces are added to the whistles and they are soldered together before being dumped into a hopper.

A machine then pushes a piece of synthetic cork into the hollow of the whistle. The cork is not needed to produce sound, Mr. Giesse said, but it changes the pitch and modulation of the whistle.

After the whistles are assembled, they are put into a large hopper with pieces of plastic that are specially designed to smooth metal. The hopper vibrates for several hours, smoothing and polishing.

For custom whistles, a 39-ton press stamps logos into the brass, ensuring that the image will not rub off or fade.

Mr. Giesse made 230 whistles for his daughter’s wedding. Each whistle was stamped with a heart and the bride and groom’s names.

Mr. Giesse said everyone found their whistles at their place settings at the same time.

“They went from this to this, in an instant,” Mr. Giesse said, pantomiming blowing a whistle and then covering his ears.

“It was loud.”

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