Door Chime History - Lost and Found Telechime

This is the story of the most amazing chime find ever.

It started in 1995 when Rick Kasprzak was doing demolition in preparation for remodeling his 1888 Eastlake style home in the Old Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago. During the course of that demolition he found buried treasure—an ancient door chime inside a wall that had been covered over long ago in some previous remodeling work. It was obviously a door chime-- it had four long tubular bells, a very mechanical looking electric mechanism, and the cover. Remarkably it was all there! Rick touched two likely looking bare wires together and amazingly it powered up… still worked, though rather sluggishly. He put the thing aside thinking that it could be addressed at some later date when he would be getting down to the finer details of the project.

In 2005, Rick was ready to address the old chime and sought out someone to service it. That’s when he found me on the net. When he first told me the story, I had high hopes that it would be some really interesting chime, but realistically expected something rather mundane… just another NuTone probably. When Rick sent me pictures of the mechanism I was shocked to see that this was like no chime I had ever seen before, and the possibility that it was original to his 1888 house seemed entirely possible. Instead of the solenoid driven hammers, this one had levers that were activated by a motor driven cam shaft of sorts acting on rocker arms. Most of the complex machine was made of cast metal of some sort and machined rod and bar stock—nothing like the formed sheet metal structure of all other chimes I knew.

So could this be—living, dusty proof that electric longbell door chimes were around nearly 50 years before they were popularized by companies like NuTone, Rittenhouse and a host of others?

As for the cover, Rick remembered that he had given it to his father back when he first found the chime, and had asked him to sandblast it in preparation for refinishing. As he recalls, it had a number of sloppy paint jobs over the original finish, so was pretty unsightly. Sadly, his father had long ago done exactly as requested, so the original finish surely had been removed, but more importantly and more sadly a label which Rick vaguely recalls, was lost. Determining the the maker of this chime would not be easy.

When Rick sent it to me and I could inspect it closely, my assumptions about its ancient age changed some. A few tell-tale items suggested that in fact it dated from a time much later than 1888. First, it has a few early plastic parts: the insulating platform that the switch is mounted to and the shut-off cam at the end of the camshaft. The switch is a mercury switch, and I really don’t know when those came into common use, but stamped on a part of it is “Wicks Pat’ed 1-17-22”. Is that a date? Sure looks like one. Eventually a visitor to my site identified the unique Wicks switch as a device commonly used in organs.  The Wicks “Direct Electric” switch continues to be made to this day by the Wicks Organ Company.  According to the Wicks site, the earliest iteration of the device dates to 1914. 
Regardless of the age, the story of how it was preserved and found, and all the details of it make it a very special chime. 

An especially oddball feature: the motor runs on 110v straight out of the wall. 110v leads are soldered to the input lugs- entirely exposed, as are the downstream connections to the motor and shut-off switch. Not exactly an exemplary safe design. The switching is all done on low voltage, so a transformer is in the door bell button circuit. At least there are on-board fuses for the high and low voltage circuits.

So what does it sound like? The bells on this, like every other aspect, are unusual.  They stamped J.C.Deagan, venerable maker of all sorts of percussion instruments like xylophones, marimbas and concert chimes, so they are tuned to musical instrument quality, which is to say a large cut above the average doorbell.  The quality of tuning, volume and sustain are all impressive. Each cam of the mechanism has two pegs on it, located asymmetrically, and the camshaft makes one half rotation for each chime sequence. As a result the chime plays two different sequences alternating each cycle. Furthermore, as each cam can individually be rotated and set on the shaft in any position, the chime can be set up to play a number of different note sequences and syncopations. I have no way to know what the original set up was.

Aside from the bell sound, this beast makes a huge amount of mechanical noise. There is just a whole lot going on… the sound of the motor, the considerable sound of the gear train, friction in the cam shaft and rocker arms and the “thwang” and rebound sounds of the hammers. The machine noise is really quite distracting and detracts from the experience. The 4-note ringing sequence takes about 12 seconds. Compare that to the 3-5 seconds most other vintage 4-note chimes take. It is tediously slow, but I guess the entertainment value of watching it run makes up for that.

My efforts on this were limited mostly to just a thorough cleaning, adjustment and replacement of petrified natural rubber parts, so generally the after shot looks pretty much like what I would guess it looked like when new.

Renovating this chime was a labor of love. My thanks to Rick for letting me be part of it.

The source of this chime was a quite a mystery, At first I thought perhaps the whole chime was made by Deagan, which in fact remains a possibility as Deagan did make a very few doorbells.  Searching threads of patent history, I found essentially this very design patented by one Frederick B. Little of Chicago, in 1937. Many of Little’s patents are assigned to Deagan, which would suggest that Little was an employee of Deagan, though also a possibility that he was a consultant. Several of those patents are for mechanisms related to the grand Deagan tower chimes.  The patent for this particular doorbell however is not assigned to anyone, leaving open the possibility that it was manufactured by a source other than Deagan.  The use of Deagan bells however at least suggests that it was produced by Deagan, which for the time being will have to be my best guess. 

Back to  that connection to Wicks Organ… One of the common uses for Deagan tubular chime sets was as a peripheral instrument to pipe organs.  Any one closely tied to Deagan would have been familiar with organ technology, hence the seemingly odd application of an organ component in a doorbell.

Oh yeah.. one last factoid: Rick’s house is about 5 blocks from the old Deagan factory. 


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