An electric bell is a type of bell mechanism that operates with the use of a supply of electricity and some form of electromagnet. Composed of a series of relatively common electrical components, this type of bell system has been used for decades in a number of applications. In recent years, many of these former functions for the mechanical or electric bell have been taken on by technology-driven equipment designed to mimic the sound of the bells without utilizing the same components.
The basic concept of an electric bell involves creating a mechanism that includes a bell or some type of gong as part of the design. In addition to the bell, the device is equipped with a metal arm that is configured with a ball on one end. This ball, known as a clapper, is used to strike the bell repeatedly as a means of producing the series of sounds of the bell clamoring. With an electric bell, the action of the arm and clapper are controlled with the use of wiring and springs that trigger the ringing action, and also bring the action to an end once the cycle is completed.
Electric bells have been in wide use in a number of settings. For most of the 20th century, the bells were included in the basic design for most telephones, serving as the means of alerting subscribers that an inbound call was being received. The bells were also used at railroad crossings, configured to warn anyone attempting to pass over the crossing that a train would be arriving at the crossing in a short amount of time. The electric bell was also used in many factories to signal the beginnings and endings of shifts, providing a similar function at schools. Even safety devices such as home burglar alarms or fire alarms made use of this type of bell mechanism, using electricity supplied by wiring to the devices as the means of activating the ringing mechanism.
Over the years, the introduction of newer technology began to replace the use of the electric bell in many applications. As analog telephones with rotary dials gave way to digital telephones using touch tone services, the ringing mechanism also changed, with many models using what is known as an electronic sounding device rather than an actual bell mechanism. In like manner, computer controlled railroad crossing signals and even simple devices like residential doorbells usually do not rely on the older technology. While still available, devices that make use of the electric bell are not produced in the same quantities as during the early to middle 20th century and are sometimes considered more of a novelty or specialty item.