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