In 1913, students had designs on the Campanile’s chimes @isucarillon

Today let’s look at an old (1913) bachelor’s thesis housed in the University Archives. Cataloging them is one of my duties, and some of them are quite interesting. I doubt many ISU undergraduates write theses these days, but they used to write quite a few. The theses are unpublished hardbound typescripts. Most are little more than essays: our subject today consists of 13 leaves, of which seven leaves are photos and blueprints. Others are substantial volumes with multiple authors (students were allowed to collaborate, and often did). Blueprints of technical drawings, etc. are typically bound in after the text. The blueprints are often much larger than the theses, so they’re folded as many times as necessary to fit between the covers.

Ample abbreviations were fashionable.

Ample abbreviations were fashionable.

You can read about the “Margaret Chimes” and their namesake, Margaret MacDonald Stanton, here and read about Iowa State’s Campanile here. (If you’re interested in learning more, contact us at Special Collections.) For our purposes today, it’s enough to know that the Margaret Chimes are a set of ten bells and that the 110′ tower was constructed to house them. The Campanile’s carillon and other renovations came later.

Flash back to 1913. Electrical engineering students Don H. Kilby and Joseph J. Shoemaker have become aware that ringing the ten chimes by means of ropes is problematic. They write that the operator must pull with a force of between 20 and 50 pounds (depending on the size of the bell). “This makes it practically impossible to maintain musical cadence. At present the system is in very bad order and on average one bell rope is broken each day.” Kilby and Shoemaker conclude that an electric remote control system would be relatively simple. It would cost an estimated $657.40 including labor ($15,952.64 adjusted for inflation). Their system’s “keyboard” and bell-clapper system would require far less maintenance. Perhaps more importantly, it would make better music: the operator could choose a “light, medium, or hard stroke” with predictable delay-times between striking keys and the sounding of chimes. I’m not an electrical engineer, but I am a musician, and their system looks good to me!

ApparatusKilby and Shoemaker did not get to install their system in the Campanile, but they did test it. At left see the counter-balanced clapper, acted upon by a magnet, to which is sent either no current (key off) or one of three voltages (light, medium, or hard stroke). Adjustable spring tension allows for fine calibration.

I applaud these students’ ingenuity. If you want to see their 1913 thesis in person, please visit us here in Special Collections at your earliest convenience.

Magnets: how do they work?

Magnets: how do they work?


Unlike the earlier images, this blueprint involves all ten chimes.

Unlike the earlier images, this blueprint involves all ten chimes.

All quotes herein are excerpted from, and images scanned from:

Electric Remote Control System for the Margaret Chimes by D. H. Kilby and J. J. Shoemaker (1913).

One thought on “In 1913, students had designs on the Campanile’s chimes @isucarillon

  1. Pingback: Report of foreign seeds and plants received at Ames, 1907 to 1914 | Cardinal Tales

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