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Ship Bells History

October 6th, 2010

Brass Ship Bells

The origin of the ship’s bell is one that is rooted firmly in tradition in modern times. The ship’s bell was once an integral part of keeping order, warning, time keeping, alarms, and was even used in religious ceremonies. Due to their use in maritime affairs, the ship’s bell has become commonplace and even symbolizes the United States Navy.

The first metal bells were created during the Bronze Age. China in particular had learned to develop high quality bells from metal. Among the first time that a ship’s bell was recorded in use was aboard the British Ship Grace Dieu in 1485. The ship carried what was known as “wache bells”.

It soon became commonplace for the ship’s bell to be used as a warning device to signal its presence during times of heavy fog. The bells ability to ring loudly through the thick, protruding air made a great detection method for notifying other ships in the area. Due to this use of the ship’s bell it became maritime law that all ships have a working bell stocked at all times. The Americans began to utilize the bell in the same fashion during the Revolutionary War. USS Constitution, the oldest surviving ship in American history, was itself equipped with a bell that weighed 242 pounds.

The use of the ship’s bell even helped the American Navy to excel in the War of Independence. This is due to the Jamaica Fleet – enemy of America – using their ship’s bell during a period of intense fog. Their use of the bell was loud enough for the Americans to hear, and led to what became the biggest prize catch of the War of Independence. The total number of prizes and cargo amounted to roughly one million dollars.

The ship’s bell is also an important part of keeping the crew on their toes in cases of emergency. A proper loud signal device was needed in order to signal the attention of the crew. In the case of a fire, the ship’s bell would be rung as fast and loud as possible for five seconds. The next few rings would be done in such a way as to tell the location of the fire. One ring would signal that it came from forward, two would signal that it came from amidships, and three would signal that it came from aft.

In modern times, the ship’s bell is still used for timekeeping and for alarms, as well as for its ceremonial uses. US Navy ship’s bells recovered from the past can be seen honorable positioned in the Naval Historical Center. Sometimes these bells are loaned to ships that are on a historical quest, or to museums for display and research. The use of the ship’s bell is a very prolific one that still rings loud and true to this day. Whenever one thinks of a ship, it is hard to imagine it without the crew and their use of the ship’s bell.

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