Century Tower is one of the most identifiable features of the University of Florida campus. The dream of building a tower began in 1953, when alumni sought funds to construct a monument in memory of students killed in World War I and World War II. The tower also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the University of Florida in 1853. The fund drive resulted in the construction of the 157-foot-tall tower, completed in 1956.
Century Tower, located in the heart of the University of Florida campus, houses a cast-bell carillon. There are fewer than 200 carillons in all of North America, and only four in the state of Florida. By definition, a carillon must have at least 23 fixed, finely tuned bells. The Century Tower Carillon has 61 bells, encompassing a range of 5 octaves, and is among the largest university carillons in North America.
The carillon is played by hand from a clavier or keyboard, with 61 large keys (called "batons") for the hands as well as 25 pedals for the feet, in a small room just below the bell chamber.
The world-class carillon housed in Century Tower was purchased with funds accumulated from student fees over several generations of students. The funds were earmarked by the Board of Regents and the Legislature for campus improvements in the performing arts. The carillon purchase was endorsed unanimously by the Student Senate in 1976.
The original 49 bells housed on the top floor of the tower were cast in 1978 by the firm of Koninklijke Eijsbouts (Royal Dutch Bell Foundry) of Asten, The Netherlands. The bronze bells were tuned at the foundry by carefully shaving metal from the interior of the bells and will never need re-tuning. The bells are hung individually from stainless steel bolts on a massive steel frame, with the largest nearest the top of the chamber. The original instrument weighed 57,760 pounds.
The bells were first rung on May 14, 1979, in a dedication recital by Milford Myhre. A plaque on the south side of the tower reads in part:
"Upon the recommendation of President and Mrs. Robert Q. Marston, the carillon is a gift to the campus from students, both past and present, and stands at the center of this community of scholars, marking the movement of time, heralding occasions of importance in the lives of its people, and pealing music of all ages to delight the common spirit."
The largest bell in the tower -- called the "Bourdon" bell -- stands five feet tall, is five feet, nine inches in diameter and weighs about 7,000 pounds. This bell tolls out each hour on a low B-flat. Like five other bells, the Bourdon has an electro-magnetically actuated hammer that strikes its outside rim. While all of the bells have adjustable inside clappers for hand playing, the tones of six special bells are triggered by a computerized time clock to play a four-phrase melody written especially for that purpose by the former chairman of the UF School of Music, Dr. Budd Udell. The clock-strike melody is heard progressively on the quarter hours.
A major gift from the estate of Larry A. Webb of St. Augustine, FL, made possible major upgrading of the carillon in 2002. Webb directed his gift to the repair, replacement and maintenance of the carillon. The renovation, carried out by Koninklijke Eijsbouts (Royal Dutch Bell Foundry) of Asten, The Netherlands, was completed just in time for the 9/11 memorial of 2003. The generous gift from Webb funded the installation of 12 additional treble bells, bringing the total number of bells to 61. The compass of the instrument is now 5 octaves with only the lowest C sharp omitted.
The carillon also received a new playing clavier and new radial transmission playing action. The recently installed clavier employs new materials for bushings, baton pads, and radiating pedals bringing the lowest and the highest pedals closer to the player. Five bells plus the bourdon are equipped with electric action and are connected to a newly installed computer system that plays the quarter and hourly strikes. Eijsbouts also provided a new electronic practice clavier and computer that can produce touch-sensitive sounds from four, different sampled bell tones. With the available MIDI, the practice clavier provides an excellent teaching aid and enables the student to record and playback.