End of an era: Classroom bells go silent for semesters

Metallurgy lab in Lord Hall, 1910

Someday, we’ll be noting in our blog, as we do with other historical campus events, the anniversary of this date – June 1, 2012 – the day the classroom bells stopped ringing permanently. With the conversion to semesters, and the subsequent wide variations in class times, the University decided to shut down the bell system with the end of this quarter. Today’s 4:18 p.m. bell will be the last.

It’s an end to what appears to be more than 100 years of bells signaling the start and end of classes in various buildings around campus.

The first reference to bells can be found in the minutes of the Board of Trustees’ Building Committee for the meeting of June 14, 1906. An appropriation of $45 was listed for bells to be installed in what later became Lord Hall, the home of the School of Mines and Engineering. Other expenses listed were electrical fixtures, electric lamps, motors, shades and chairs. At a similar meeting two years later, the minutes state that the committee approached the E. Howard Clock Company on the matter of obtaining a “Watchman’s Clock System for the various buildings of the University…for ringing the class bells…for the sum on $520.”

In 1920 John Coven, a master mechanic at the University Power House, explained to a Lantern reporter how the clock system worked. The bells are regulated from a clock in the chief engineer’s office. A wiring system linked that clock with all of the classroom bells. A spring, attached to the clapper, was wound every two weeks in every bell so that it would spring – and ring – when called to do so.  This system also tracked the night watchman and the campus policeman before the age of telephones. Stations were set up around campus with a button that would record the time and the station location so that, in the event of an emergency, an official could be located.

There’s been talk before of disabling the bells for good – most recently in 1993. The Classroom Coordinating Council and the Scheduling Office went so far as to conduct an experiment: Bells were disconnected in five buildings for a quarter. Surveys were then sent to 400 faculty and 300 students to see what they thought about the change. More than half responded, and in the end, the bells kept ringing.

To learn more about the disabling process, read this Columbus Dispatch story:

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2012/06/01/at-ohio-state-its-o-h-bye-o-to-classroom-bells.html

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