American Bell Association `Bell and Tell` article

How the General Grant Bell Became the Symbol of the American Bell Association

The first meeting of The American Bell Association (at the time called the Bell Collectors Club), was held in Chicago in 1946, but since I could not attend, I volunteered the services of my daughter, Myra, who was married and living in Chicago. She guided the group of some fifteen men and women through the University of Chicago and environs, and it was after that tour that they formalized themselves into a First Convention.

Augusta Littman

By Augusta Littman, Past President of THE AMERICAN BELL ASSOCIATION®
The Second Annual Convention was held in St. Louis in 1947, a two-day affair. At the close of the banquet, which was held on the first evening, Mrs. Mary Alter Collins, mother of Bob Collins, the 24th President of ABA, asked me if the group might come to my house the next morning to see my bells, and when I said, “Why, of course,” she further inquired if there was a restaurant nearby at which they might eat lunch. Naturally, I invited them for lunch at my home, and the next morning bright and early, we took down extra dishes, set tables in the patio, and made preparations for luncheon.

When my husband came down for breakfast he asked what was going on, and I answered, “The Bell Convention is coming for lunch.” He asked, “How many?” “Oh, about 25 or 30”… “When did you learn about this? “At 11 o’clock last night.” He shook his head wonderingly at the unpredictability of what a Bell Collector will do for his fellow hobbyists!

General Grant Bell 250I dashed to the market for food. It was easy to estimate the amount of sliced meats, salads, sandwiches, and cake necessary for such a group of people; but as for making coffee, I was nonplussed, since none of us were coffee devotees. I remembered someone once said, “to make large quantities of coffee, boil water in a preserving kettle, then drop in a sack full of coffee.” I had no idea how much coffee, but one pound did not sound like enough for thirty people, so I emptied two pounds of coffee into sacks, and told the maid to drop them into the boiling water. I promptly forgot about it when the door bell rang.

Hours later while we were eating lunch, I looked down the lengths of tables and was horrified to see the maid pouring the coffee! You can imagine the consistency of it by this time! But do you know, people came up to ask how to make such a delicious brew… and for years after, I received letters complimenting “that marvelous coffee!”

After lunch we wandered around the Bell Room, and Mrs. Collins (Mary) mused aloud, “It would be so nice if we had an ‘official bell’.” I picked up a rare Chinese gong and asked her how it would do. She examined it admiringly, said it was lovely indeed, but she seemed rather hesitant about accepting it. At this point, up spoke Hazel Young, who was to be the next president, and said, “Well, I think it ought to be something more “American.” Thereupon, I handed the General Grant bell to Mrs. Collins.

And this is how the General Grant bell became the official symbol of the American Bell Association!

How My Family Came Into Possession of the Bell

Ulysses Grant was born in 1822, at Point Pleasant, Ohio, a sixth generation American. He was baptized Hiram Ulysses Grant… “Hiram” for a distant relative, and “Ulysses” suggested by his grandmother, a student of history and literature, and an ardent admirer of Homer. When Hiram was 17, he received an appointment to West Point, on the application to which he was erroneously listed as Ulysses Grant. The recorder knew he had a middle name and supposed it was his mother’s maiden name of Simpson, so he recorded the name as Ulysses S. Grant, the name by which this cadet was known ever after (and sometimes jokingly called “Uncle Sam”).

After his service in the Mexican War and some years in California, Captain Grant resigned from the army in order to spend more time with his wife and children. His father-in-law owned a large plantation 18 miles from St. Louis, and gave the Grants a portion of this land on which to live. They built a fur-room long cabin, (which stands as a popular landmark in suburban St. Louis) from which Ulysses Grant made regular trips to St. Louis to sell cordwood and eggs, and to bring back supplies for his farm.

When my father was a young boy he worked in his father’s bakery where it was one of his tasks to see that Captain Grant’s weekly order of 12 sacks of stale bread for the livestock and chickens was placed in the Grant wagon. After the Captain had disposed of his produce he would visit with his many friends and by the time he reached the bakery, ready to go home, he was worn out. My father would line the bottom of the covered wagon with the sacks of stale bread, then place the tired Captain on top of them, tie the horses’ reins the whip-socket, and start the team of horses who fortunately knew their way home.

Captain Grant was not too happy with farm life, and six years later he moved his family to Galena, IL, where his father had a leather tannery. He appreciated my father’s kindness to him during those years, and before he moved away he gave my father a choice of several items as a memento. My father chose the bell that had been used on Grant’s farm to call workers to meals.

And that is how the bell came into my family!