History of Doorbells

It may seem odd now, but there was a time when so called "musical door chimes" were a novelty and a luxury. In this case, "musical" refers to any sounds made by a tap or knock on a tuned bell or bells of some sort, as opposed to an alarm like clatter or an irritating buzzer. In fact, early advertising made the claim that these new musical chimes would be just the ticket to offer relief to housewives whose nerves were jangled by the jarring sound of typical door buzzers. Early advertising sometimes featured door chimes as a good gift giving item. Can you imagine going to Home Depot to get your loved one a doorbell for Christmas? So while it may seem just a bit odd that anyone would put so much effort into the mundane topic of old electric doorbells, consider that these were once a matter of luxury and pride. Consider that in the heyday of musical chimes, a doorbell niche was often built into a new home to give the chime a conspicuous and honored spot-- absolutely de rigueur for better homes. To me, restoring them is a matter of preserving an artifact of our architecture and culture, which only by its enormous success has become so normal and common as to be virtually invisible to most people.

Today, it's hard to imagine that anyone would not know what a door bell sounds like-- Ding-Dong, of course! But it wasn't always like that... the electric door bell had to be invented, refined, marketed. I hope to eventually piece together the history of the door chime business. That history was not well documented, at least not in any form that makes it easy to rediscover today. Much of it was surely lost with the passing of the generation that created it. A fair amount of speculation is required to piece it all together.

What’s clear is that there was a flurry of patent activity for musical chimes starting around 1930. Some ideas were dead simple, some frighteningly complex. Evidence suggests that Edwards and Telechime (General Kontrolar) were the earliest companies to market solenoid-struck chimes. By 1936 Nutone and Rittenhouse were formidable competitors. Lots of tiny shops sprung up in the late thirties to fill demand for the trendy product. In the post war era, the industry was reduced to three major companies: Nutone, Rittenhouse and Edwards. By the late 1950’s Edwards was focused primarily on other products, Rittenhouse was fading away and Nutone was the remaining primary player. By the late 1960’s chimes devolved from trendy luxury items to lifeless commodities. The official end of the door chime party was marked in 1967 when the founders of NuTone cashed out.

See detailed history of specif brands by clicking on the brown tabs at left.

  KNOCK Doorbells | Portland Oregon