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The History of the Doorbell

The history of the doorbell is a long one, starting from the early 19th century and advancing with the times. These days, doorbells are everywhere! They are used for practical visitor-announcement needs, along with security and safety. Doorbells can also set a mood or deliver a carefully planned first impression that the home or business owner might want to express. Today, you have a huge variety of wireless and hard-wired doorbells to choose from. Designs ranging from the purely functional to ornate or sophisticated decorative designs to complement the style of a home or building. Let's look at how it all got started.

"Spanish Customs Door Bell Crank" by Infrogmation of New Orleans is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Doorbells Before Electricity: Manual Doorbells and Door Knockers

"Ancient Door" by ni9htb1rd is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Plain old knocking was, and still is, a fairly good basic method for announcing your arrival. The major flaw is that people inside may not hear you when you knock, so manual or mechanical doorbells were devised. The simplest pre-electricity example of a "visitor-announcement system" was the door knocker, in use since ancient times. These older-version doorsill or door-mounted devices made a sound when the visitor banged the hinged knocker onto the metal plate installed under it, protecting the door. These door knockers often also served as decoration, but they worked little better than knocking, being only somewhat louder.

Mechanical Doorbells

"Staff Call Bells" by xlibber is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Vintage doorbells then took a step forward from knockers; to better alert people indoors to a visitor. Mechanical doorbells were made using a small bell, installed inside the house that was manually activated when a visitor would pull a chain or string to ring the bell. This bell is the same design as the "servants' bells" you see in period films from the late 1800s. In this setup, a bell rings in the maid's quarters when someone, far away, in one of the rooms of the main home pulls a chain to summon them.

Another early, Victorian era doorbell design used a twist handle--like turning a key. When the visitor turned the handle, it caused a tiny hammer or clapper strike a bell on the inside of the door. A rapid trill or ringing sound was produced, These relatively crude mechanical doorbells were loaded with charm and sometimes "ye olde" doorbell featured very ornate outdoor buttons, pulls or levers. Retail stores and small shops often used door-mounted mechanical bells to announce when a customer entered a shop. Version of these are still in use today.

Electric Doorbell Invention and Early Electric Doorbells

"DoorBell 001" by HNH - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Who invented the doorbell? Was there a not-so-famous Alexander Graham Doorbell hidden back in ancient doorbell history somewhere? We can actually thank a scientist and the original secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Joseph Henry, for inventing the electric doorbell back in 1831.

In the early 1900s, expensive batteries in doorbells were replaced by transformers, allowing use of household current. Until the early 1930s, most doorbells were loud electric buzzers. Musical chimes with pleasing tones became popular in the 30s. The Depression and WWII quieted the development of doorbells, which surged again in popularity during the 1950s. In the mid-1960s, decorative and multifunctional door chimes became more popular. They were built with clocks atop the chimes and decorative plaques hiding indoor components.

How Electric Doorbells Work

Hard-wired electric doorbell components include the outdoor button, wiring, transformer and chime or bell. The electric doorbell functions when the door button, outside the home, is pushed, causing electrical current to flow into a transformer. The transformer takes electrical energy from the circuit/source and transforms it to the lower voltage needed to power the doorbell. The current activates a chime or some type of sound signal. The doorbell's sound may come from a buzzer or a bell instead of a chime.

How Wireless Doorbells Work

Wireless doorbell systems are incredibly popular partly due to ease of installation. With no wiring along baseboards or inside walls, wireless receivers can be plugged in a wall socket (using a small transformer adapter) or battery powered. The transmitter is the doorbell button, which is commonly battery operated, using long-lasting lithium batteries.

When a visitor pushes the doorbell button, it transmits a radio signal to the receiver(s) inside the house. The signal activates a sound chip in the receiver to play the sound through a speaker. To avoid interference from wireless devices on the same frequency, several different radio channel options are available.

Advanced Doorbell Features: Wireless Doorbells and High Tech Features

The number of sounds, physical designs and advanced features available in doorbells today are nearly endless. Here are just a few benefits modern doorbells offer:

Design variety: You can get doorbells to match any decor, or use sleek functional units that blend into basic white or beige walls. You can find doorbell buttons with personality and style too.

Chimes and tunes: If you don't want to listen to the same doorbell sound every day, enjoy the variety of doorbell tunes, multiple sound effects and melodies. Some doorbells offer 8 different tones, notes and songs and others offer 13 sound options, some offer only 2 or 3 basics--and there's even a model that offers 50 songs.

Extended range: For long-range capability you can purchase units with a range up to 1000 feet. There are innovative doorbell extenders that can extend the range of your existing doorbell so that it is audible where you need it.

Safety: Get advance notice of someone coming up the driveway--being alerted much earlier than you might with a doorbell--with a wireless driveway alarm with motion sensor. Motion sensors are compatible with many doorbells as well.

Visual signals: Some doorbells or door alarms these days also feature visual signals like a blinking light for loud areas or as an aid to the deaf or hearing impaired.

Decorative Doorbells and Door Chimes with Rich Sound Options

The advent of wireless and multi-featured doorbells has brought a resurgence of popularity to the wired doorbell. Both wireless and hard-wired doorbells have begun offering a wide variety of tones, melodies, songs and sound effects. These doorbells allow homeowners and businesses to customize the look -- and also the sound -- of their entryway. Decorative motifs for the indoor receiver/speaker unit vary from architectural designs, contemporary, sophisticated, streamlined, polished wood doorbell receivers, brushed-metal doorbells, hand-crafted wood styles, antique-look scrolled designs and more.

Most doorbells have at least a couple of basic chime options, for instance a basic "ding dong" sound and other deep or high bell-like sounds; in single notes or groups of 3 or 4 tones. Deep tones can sound serious, elegant, rich or ominous; similar to a large bell-tower bell. Higher doorbell chimes almost mimic the high, clear notes you might get from tapping on a crystal wineglass.

Hard-Wired and Wireless Doorbell Melodies, Sound Effects and More

If you're looking to go beyond the basic, classic door chime sounds--now that is possible. Choose musical doorbells that can greet visitors with a holiday theme, including Halloween songs, Christmas tunes, New Years, 4th of July and more. Some doorbells offer as many sound choices as the proverbial jukebox. The iChime recordable doorbell offers

If you're thinking about adding, replacing or upgrading your current doorbell, browse the online catalog at 1800Doorbell for a wide selection. We offer the best doorbell brands and models available in the latest designs. Here you'll find full-featured wireless doorbells, driveway alarms and more. We also offer realistic vintage designs to add character to your space. Contact 1800Doorbell.com for more product information and for assistance choosing the right doorbell for your home or business. Contact us today!