When it comes to an entrepreneurial spirit that's been expressed in a business for more than 150 years, few companies can make the claims made by The Verdin Company in Pendleton.

Verdin is the global leader in the manufacturing of bells, clocks and carillons, and is locally celebrated as the creator of the world's largest free-swinging bell, Newport's World Peace Bell.

CEO Robert Verdin can sit in his office in the Pendleton neighborhood"”a historic section of Over-the Rhine"”and realize he's but a short distance to Old St. Mary's Church on East 13th Street. That's where two Verdin brothers"”Francois de Sales and Nicholas Alois"”installed their first clock tower in 1842, after they emigrated to the Cincinnati area.

Since that clock tower became a landmark, The Verdin Co. has pioneered breakthroughs in the clock and bell industry. Each generation in the family brought forth something new or different to the company, nurturing its longevity.

The company has enjoyed a seemingly continuous, seamless shift of assets and power, now moving into the 6th generation. That places The Verdin Co. as one of the oldest, if not the oldest, family-owned manufacturing companies in Ohio.

Five generations of family members and employees have installed more than 20,000 towers and bells, many at noted sites. Their work can be found at the University of Notre Dame, the Smithsonian Institution, Walt Disney World, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Mayo Clinic. Locally, the city of Montgomery features numerous Verdin products in its central business district. New "lifestyle" shopping centers such as the Anderson Towne Center in Anderson Township are sporting trendy clock towers from Verdin.

Cousins Robert, Jim (president) and David (vice president) Verdin share leadership at the company today, ready to usher in the 6th generation of family management. Jim Verdin says innovation and risk-taking are integral to the company's success. "It took guts," he notes, recalling the risks taken by the two brothers who moved here from France during the great European migration. In those days, the bell business was essential to society. Bells rang out the time, sounded alarms for fires and other emergencies, and called communities together to worship.

"Each generation did something special," to advance the Verdin business, Jim says of his entrepreneurial family history. Grandfather I.T. Verdin, the third-generation businessman, transformed the industry and expanded the scope of the family business when he created the first electric bell ringer in America. Prior to his invention, all bells were rung by hand.

The family members in leadership have been "pretty clever over the years," Jim says with a smile. Before I.T.'s invention, his father before him (2nd-generation leader Alois Nicholas Verdin) created a continuous mechanical winder for clocks, which eliminated the need for someone to climb up clock towers and hand-wind the clocks weekly. Another Verdin innovator introduced electronic bell carillons, an invention that opened up a broader market for this product.

Creativity was essential to the World Peace Bell project, a huge effort to produce the world's largest swinging bell"”a mammoth weighing 66,000 lbs. It was cast to commemorate peace in the new millennium.

Today, the new generation of Verdin management has taken the bell business into the digital age.

"Like any business, we've had our ups and downs," Jim Verdin says, citing slowdowns in the early 1970s, early 1980s and early 1990s. But innovative ideas "triggered a change for more ideas," he notes. "We have never really suffered too much. If we only had been a church bell company, we never could have survived."

"Lifestyle" shopping centers now provide a fair portion of the Verdin business. Mall developers want fresh and innovative design components. "Developers want a town center look, a lifestyle center," Verdin explains.

What challenges will confront the keepers of the Verdin tradition, the successors in a company history lasting more than 150 years? "That's their problem,'" Jim says, with a twinkle in his eye.