America’s First Bellfounder

By Phineas Upham

Benjamin Hanks is credited with being the first person in the United States to make both cannons and church bells from bronze. Although he was a goldsmith by trade, that profession made him adept at instrument and clock making. He would hone those skills into becoming a bellfounder, and eventually into owning a foundry of his own.

Hanks was at the Lexington Alarm, playing drums for the militias that were roused by Paul Revere that night. He served an additional month into the American Revolutionary War before a short hiatus. He returned to service in the Third Regiment through 1775. It was during that second term that he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, becoming commandant of Connecticut’s Fifth Regiment.

After the war, Hanks married Alice Hovey in Windham, Connecticut. The two moved their budding family to Litchfield, Connecticut in 1780 . There, Hanks built a new home and started his fledgling business as a goldsmith and instrument maker. In addition to clock making, he dabbled in the creation of compasses as well.

In 1786 Hanks built a foundry located near the court house in Litchfield. It was in that foundry that he began his “Brazier’s business” and built his first bell. He became quite famous for making church bells at his foundry, a business that kept him in good financial health until near 1790. He lost his business at that point and moved his family to Mansfield, Connecticut, hoping for better times. Hicks became a partner with his son Julius, and the two formed a foundry in Troy, New York. They took out an expensive ad in the paper to advertise their services, and the tactic worked. The Troy foundry went from small gold pieces to tower clocks and surveyors instruments. Benjamin died in 1824, succeeded by his son Julius.

About the Author: Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or Twitter page.

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