Bell Co. war effort applauded


When Collier’s magazine, a Springfield, Ohio-based, nationally distributed weekly periodical, published its Oct. 14, 1944, edition, its then circulation of 2.5 million subscribers had the opportunity to read about an enterprise that was doing its part for the war effort — The C.S. Bell Company in Hillsboro.

With patriotic-themed advertisements for everything from cigarettes, pipe tobacco and alcohol to hats, watches and cigars, there is nary a page in the magazine that doesn’t reference then raging World War II in some way. There are printed reminders to, “For your fighting man, buy more bonds”, an advertisement for tailored suits declaring that “Morale is spelled M-A-I-L”, with its call to write to the troops, and pages soliciting women to sign up for the Women’s Army Corps or to join the thousands of women already working for the Pennsylvania Railroad during the wartime collective rallying call for civilians to serve, sacrifice and contribute in unprecedented ways.

The contribution of the C.S. Bell Company came in the form of its ability to manufacture bells without rationed materials and to seize the opportunity to make the U.S. military aware of this fact.

The article, which is entitled “Battle Bells”, discussed the contributions of the C.S. Bell Company to the Allied Forces during the war when thousands of bells manufactured in Hillsboro were placed on the Naval ships of the Allied Forces after an opportunity was seized and a contract negotiated with U.S. government.

The bells were produced with a “secret formula” that effectively circumvented the “order from Washington limiting the use of bronze and brass to actual combat essentials.” At a time when “copper and tin really went to war,” the C.S. Bell Company secured a deal with Uncle Sam to equip the military with its Hillsboro-made pig iron bells, a feat which did not escape notice by Collier’s in its piece that graphically described the momentous accomplishment.

“Jerry Wolfe was dispatched to Washington to bring the Navy around to (Virginia Bell’s) way of thinking.”, the article said, and continued to describe, “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 over one million bells in our Hillsboro plant.’

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

The C.S. Bell Company representative’s description of the Hillsboro manufactured bells passed muster and so did the bells.

“Since that day, 26,000 bells for the Navy, for civilian defense, for the Maritime Commission and Land-Lease,” had been cast, according to the magazine article.

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

Personnel within the company were interviewed about the product they helped to make that was now a part of something greater than they could have imagined before.

The interviews showcased the extent to which employees worked together, each with a specific purpose for which they were uniquely qualified.

“Bill Hall is the tone tester,” the article said. “It’s simple but exacting work,” he explained. “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.”

The accompanying glossy, full color photographs with which the article is adorned depicted Virginia Bell, granddaughter of C.S. Bell, and then president of the company that her grandfather had founded, dressed in a sensible suit and smartly coiffed hair, pouring the molten pig iron for which the company was now known.

Yet another photograph showed a man, impeccably attired in a dark suit and tie with a handkerchief in his front pocket that neatly accessorized his ensemble. He looks solemnly over a cadre of the final products, hundreds of identical, shiny, gilded bells, with the appearance of having been brushed to a glistening patina and emblazoned with the telltale inscription, “USN”, signifying the purpose for which they were intended.

The caption provided to Collier’s readers was that, “Before bells are packed off to war, they are inspected by Rev. Ignatius Lee.”

While others might look upon this photo as a compelling illustration of the C.S. Bell Company’s activities during the war, and of the man in the photograph as someone of importance to that process, to Cindy Bateman, of Ray, Ohio, the Rev. Lee was more than that — he was her grandfather.

One of many highly valued employees of the company, Lee was not only the C.S. Bell Company bell inspector during the period of time documented in the article, but he was also a minister, according to Bateman.

She said that he was originally from Glenville, Ohio, but that his work as a Presbyterian minister took him to many places, including Hillsboro.

“I’m not sure how he got to Hillsboro,” said Bateman. “Somebody needed a minister in Hillsboro, so that’s where he went.” She said his ministerial occupation also took him to places like Conneaut, Athens and others, but when he got an offer to move away from Hillsboro, Bateman said that her grandmother, Florene, “did not want to leave.” According to ancestral records, Lee and his wife remained in Hillsboro and Lee is buried in Hillsboro Cemetery.

Lee was a World War I veteran, according to Bateman. She said that he was also the chaplain of the Ohio chapter of the American Legion.

She also saved clippings of Hillsboro newspapers that discussed the publication of Collier’s article. But she said that the time that he spent with her, not his employment with the C.S. Bell Company, is what she remembered about her grandfather.

“We always called him Grandpa. He was very kind and loving and really enjoyed his grandchildren,” Bateman said.

Juliane Cartaino is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.

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