A: Fire bell. 3-19-52 Identification by G. V. Tudhope (Assit. Sup. Elec. Dep. -1909-1951) Weighs 2,880 lbs. Purchased by City of Oakland 1877. In service from 1878 to 1911 in wooden tower, rear #1 Engine and Cent. Fire Alarm Station Headquaters. Moved to make room for present City Hall. Used to signal location of fires by code numbers to citizens and extra firemen. Mounted stationary in tower. Activated by electrical circuit from a repeater in Central Fire Alarm Station which transmitted number of fire alarm box pulled for each fire. Cast for the City of Oakland, 1877. B: Sign or plaque: Old Fire Bell. Used by the City of Oakland in the late 70's. Such bells were4 hung in a framework on top of the engine house and were the means of announcing to the firemen and populace that a fire was raging. Inscription reads: Made for the City of Oakland, California, October 17, 1877. E. H. Pardee, Mayor and councilmen...names illegible. (Oakland Tribune, Dec. 9, 1957) A three-ton bell that sounded fire warnings in the key of E for Oakland's first official department has been set on a concrete base for all to see - but to ring no more. The bell, cast in 1877, sits in front of the Joaquin Miller fire station at 2795 Butters Drive. In the early days of Oakland, several attempts were made to organize a fire department. The first was established in 1853 but soon disbanded. Then, in 1869, a city ordinance created the department under Chief Engineer John Halley with Thomas McGuire and George Taylor as assistants. Phoenix Co. No. 1 was organized, functioning from a wooden structure on 15th Street, now the site of the city hall. ...[missing] McShane Foundry of Baltimore and inscribed with the names of the mayor, E. H. Pardee, and Councilmen W. Walter, P. W. Fonda, W. Grenell, J. M. Minter, W. ?. Miller, J. F. W. Sohst and M. W. Fish. The bell rang from a 75-foot tower on a three story brick building on 15th, built to replace the wooden structure. It served not only to ring out the call of disaster, but also to toll the 9 p.m. juvenile curfew and inform the citizens when it was noon and 6 p.m. The four-foot high bell is supposed to contain more than $1,600 worth of silver. It was cast of one part tin to four parts copper to give it proper tone and sound-carrying features. For years after the old station was razed to make way for the city hall in 1910, the bell was kept in storage areas. (From the donor file, a letter from Mr. G. V. Tudhope, Assistant Superintendent of the Electrical Dept. for the City of Oakland from Dec. 1909 to June 1951.) This old bell weighed 2,880 pounds, which is 800 pounds more than the Liberty Bell. It was purchased by the city of Oakland in 1877 and placed in service in 1878 and remained in service until the year 1911 when it was removed from its old wooden tower in the rear of No. 1 Engine and the Central Fire Alarm Headquarters, to make room for the present City Hall building. This was the largest bell ever purchased by the city and on clear, windfree days it could be heard in most all of Oakland which didn't extend east of Fruitvale Ave. in its early days. The bell was used to signal the location of fires, by code numbers, to the many citizens and extra firemen who held themselves ready to respond and help fight fires in their districts. The bell was mounted, stationary in the tower, about fifty feet above ground. It was actuated by an electrical circuit from a repeater in the Central Fire Alarm Station, which transmitted the number of the fire alarm box pulled for each fire. The street box was designed to transmit not faster than one blow in two seconds, so that the electro-mechanical device striking the tower bell could have sufficient time to swing a hammer weighing about fifty pounds at a three foot radius to strike the bell. This mechanical striking device was energized through ratchet gear to chain and iron weights, weighing several hundred pounds, which had to be wound up by a large hand crank. Needless to say, the whole bell tower shook and trembled after each blow. The present street boxes transmit their signals at the rate of four blows per second while in the old days they had to be slowed to one blow in two seconds. The old bell in now grounded in the south side of the Oakland Public Museum, 1426 Oak Street. It is a valuable piece and should be guarded with care for the benefit and joy of future posterity. (Additional information from undated Oakland Tribune article) ...The story of the bell goes back to 1877, the year Oakland's first city-owned city hall burned. To have this happen right next to No. 1 engine company and the central fire alarm system was embarrassing. The dity fathers ordered a new master bell and it was a beauty....The bell was mounted on eight-by-eight timbers each 50 feet long. The bell at the top was fifty feet above ground. The bill rendered the city for this installation included these items: One bell 2880 pounds $1,039. One bell hanger $150. One bell striker $1,000....Chief function of the master bell was to let people know where the fire had broken out. It did this by the number of strokes it sounded, each representing a fire alarm box. Volunteer firemen thus knew where to hasten to help the regular fire department. Since the telephone was not yet in general use, this signal system was invaluable. Fire boxes in those days were not as easy to get into as now. Oakland had suffered a rash of false alarms and to combat them all boxes were locked in 1877. They stayed locked until 1911. Keys to unlock them were distributed among homes and business places in the vicinity of each box. They key holders were printed on cards in each box under glass. Before you could turn in an alarm, you had to run for a key. These keys could later be removed only by a special one usually carried by the fire chief....[part of article missing] (D. Cooper 1/98) This bell is now on exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California.

Used: Oakland | Oakland Fire Department

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