Monday, June 12, 2017

Corvallis College Bell: Around The World From 80 Countries

Corvallis College bell at
Benton County Historical Society

This bell was made in England but also has a interesting local connection because it hung in the belfry of Corvallis College the forerunner of Oregon State University.  If it hadn't been so large-- the bell itself is 22 inches in diameter, with the stand adding more-- it would have been a good object to include in the “Around the World...” exhibition.  But it would have replaced a goodly number of other objects so we used some of the collection's other 150 objects from England.

Corvallis College, circa 1870, facing 5th Street
between Monroe and Madison, Corvallis
Bells have called people to church or school for centuries.  Traditionally, bells were made of a special copper-tin alloy called, not surprisingly, bell metal. This metal is like bronze but has a higher tin content (20-22% instead of 12%) to create a more rigid and resonant metal. But Sheffield, England native Tom Vickers had a different idea.

As far back as medieval times, people in the Sheffield area were using charcoal to smelt iron ore and shape it into tools.  By 1700, it had become the center for production of cutlery.  A number of innovations to the iron and steel industries originated in the area, including the use of coal-based coke as a fuel to replace wood-based charcoal, and the development of the crucible process for making steel.  By 1830, Sheffield was established as the leading “Steel City” in England.

The Vickers family and their in-laws, the Naylors, were part of this industrial core, producing crucible steel and operating a rolling mill. They sent Tom and his brother to Germany to study steel-making and there Tom learned of a process of casting steel into molds. A German acquaintance, Ewald Riepe, patented this process in England and as a result, has his name appears on the bell.  In 1855, the Naylor, Vickers company began making cast-steel bells which they sold for about a third the price of traditional bells. This bell – number 1629-- was made in 1860.  In addition to being cheaper, cast steel bells were stronger and were supposed to produce a more powerful sound that carried over longer distances. Although some people did not like the sound of the bells, the company continued to produce and sell them until the 1880s. Of the over 7,000 cast-steel bells they produced, they exported about one-quarter of the bells to the United States. Many, like this one, are still in existence.

To read more about this company and their bells, see

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Martha! You inspired me to research other Naylor Vickers bells in Oregon and to share what I found!