Originating in 1851, the L.D. Rankin Bell Factory stood on the square in Fredericktown where there is now a parking lot beside of the Fredericktown Historical Museum. These bells are marked Made by L. D. Rankin Fredericktown O. Secured New Composition Bell. L.D. Rankin died in May of 1867. The foundry was sold to Will Cummings who ran the local lumber yard and the company was called the Fredericktown Bell Company. In the 1880’s it was sold to James Bedell Foote, and the name was changed to the J.B. Foote Foundry.
Foote began aggressively marketing farm and commercial bells. An industrious salesman named Myron T. Herrick took the company’s horse and buggy and set out to sell bells.
Mr. Herrick was very successful and he enabled the company to expand and ultimately find markets worldwide. Bells were a way of life during that time period and bells were sold to churches, schools, fire departments, shipping lines for use on steamships, colleges, railroad and rural areas for use as dinner bells. These simple devices were the smartphones of their time. When a bell was rung, everyone knew that something was happening that required their attention. If you lived on a farm, the bell being rung meant to come to the house immediately.
In 1913, Foote sold the company to Ralph Struble and Frank Zeig who continued to make bells along with concrete block machines, playground equipment and cement mixers.
An accountant, Guy V. Fearn, purchased the foundry in 1930. Under his ownership the company’s operation improved and cement mixers were sold along with bells, to Sears Roebuck & Company nationally. The company continued to prosper and eventually had three divisions which produced gray iron castings, concrete mixers and in later years transmissions for self propelled and riding lawnmowers.
Mr. Fearn died in 1940 and the company was taken over by his wife, Goldye, who along with plant manager, C.R. Ruggles, greatly improved the foundry’s operation and the business thrived.
Unfortunately, many of the Fredericktown Bells fell victim to the scrap metal drives held during World War II to assist the country and boost the win the war effort back home.
The company was purchased in 1987 by Fredericktown resident Thomas Updike who modernized the foundry process.
Although the company no longer produced bells, in 2007, in conjunction with the community’s bicentennial celebration, the foundry cast a number of bells which were sold at auction and the money raised was used to help fund the year-long celebration.
Sadly, the foundry fell victim to the economic hardships of increasing operating costs, new EPA compliance regulations and a shifting away from iron products to hard plastics and the business was closed in 2014.
Many people have contacted the Fredericktown Historical Museum concerning a bell they may have purchased or been given to them and interest is very strong concerning their history. The bells were cast in different sizes based on what they we being used for. The size is cast into the bell and appears as a number.