Take a factory tour, get a free whistle
America’s only manufacturer of metal whistles is located right here in Columbus. You can tour the little factory on the north side of the city, where a dozen employees make about 5,000 whistles a day. You’ll even get a free whistle when you leave. But it’ll cost you $4 first to take the tour.
For years I’ve known about American Whistle, which has been fashioning whistles out of solid brass for police officers, coaches and everyday folk since 1956. Oddly, though, it wasn’t until I recently read in a city guide that Columbus’ own Jeni Britton Bauer said the factory was among her favorite local tourist destinations that I finally made the effort to visit with my children.
Factory tours are offered by appointment Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Everyone leaves with a shiny new “American Classic” whistle. The 45-minute tour is suitable for preschoolers to senior citizens.
I phoned a day ahead, and Rosie, Max and I were added to an existing tour the following day. Upon arrival, I was surprised to see about 30 people waiting outside of the garage-like building on Huntley Road.
As the tour began inside the one-room factory, we were informed not to take any pictures of the whistle-making process and to stand between two lines painted on the cement floor. Children were encouraged to stand in front for a better view.
I cringed at the thought of our kids getting out of line and snatching unfinished whistles. But, like magic, all of the children seemed captivated by the process.
The first machine cut brass into a shape that looks like a Mickey Mouse head. Another machine created a second shape. Yet another combined the parts, soldering them into the familiar whistle shape.
The whistles then went into a tumbler where they were polished. Final machines added signature stamps and inserted rubberlike balls before the whistles were prepared for shipment to places like Walmart, where they’re sold under the name “American Spirit.”
“Does a whistle work without the ball?” our tour guide asked.
“No,” the children replied.
He blew into a whistle, proving that it did indeed work without a ball. Its purpose, he said, is to roll around inside the whistle’s chamber, producing the trademark trilling sound.
Like an amusement park ride, the tour ended by funneling us through a gift shop. It was just a display counter by the exit door, where you’ll find whistles, lanyards, rubber protectors for whistles, T-shirts, mugs and magnets, priced from $1 to $60 for a gold-plated whistle that the NFL annually presents to Super Bowl officials.
“Don’t blow a whistle in someone’s ear,” our tour guide warned. “It’s a tool.”
I cringed again, dreading our car ride home with three shiny new whistles.
The American Whistle Corp. is located at 6540 Huntley Rd., Columbus. For more information, call 614-846-2918 or visit www.americanwhistle.com.