Big Ben: The Story Behind the Bell

The Palace of Westminster, Elizabeth Tower containing Big Ben, and Westminster Bridge in February 2007. (Image by Diliff via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1858, the bell known as Big Ben was cast in London.

Here are some things you may not have known about Big Ben.

The nickname Big Ben refers to the bell only. The clock is called the Great Clock, while the tower is named Elizabeth Tower.

The namesake of the bell is disputed. It may have been named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who was in charge of the installation of the bell, or it might have been named after the English heavyweight boxing champion Benjamin Caunt.

The bell weighs 13 1/2 tons. It’s 7 feet, 6 inches tall and 9 feet in diameter.

It’s not the original bell intended for the clock tower. The first bell, which was slightly heavier than its successor, cracked during testing before it was installed. The replacement bell cracked in September 1859, as the hammer used to strike it was heavier than the bell was designed for. For three years, the bell was out of commission, and the hours were signaled using the lowest of the accompanying quarter bells.

The quarter bells, as their name would indicate are sounded at the quarter-hour. There are four of them, which play G-sharp, F-sharp, E, and B. The chime melody they play is known as the Westminster Quarters, and is widely played by clocks around the world. The melody, while made famous at Westminster, originated at the church of St. Mary the Great in Cambridge.

The tower leans about 9 inches to the northwest because of settling and construction of underground train lines beneath it. The clock is 23 feet in diameter and the face contains 312 pieces of opal glass. The clock uses a double three-legged gravity escapement, which helps maintain the clock’s famous accuracy. Part of this is a small stack of old pennies which sit atop the pendulum. The coins move the pendulum’s center of mass slightly higher, which increases the rate at which the clock runs. Each penny changes the speed by 0.4 seconds per day. In August 2015, it was discovered that the clock was running 7 seconds fast, so a few of the pennies were removed to correct the error.

In 2012, the tower, which never had a name, was named in honor of Queen Elizabeth II during her Diamond Jubilee.

Our question: How many years as monarch does a Diamond Jubilee celebrate ?

Today is International Siblings Day.

It’s also Safety Pin Day, National Farm Animals Day, and Golfer’s Day.

It’s the birthday of actor Omar Sharif, who was born in 1932; football coach and announcer John Madden, who is 81; and actor Steven Seagal, who is 65. It’s also my mom’s birthday. Happy birthday, Mom.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1984, the top song in the U.S. was “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins.

The No. 1 movie was “Police Academy,” while the novel “The Aquitaine Progression” by Robert Ludlum topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


Weekly question: What is the nickname of the bell that surpassed Big Ben as the largest bell in Great Britain?

Submit your answer at and we’ll add the name of the person with the first correct answer to our winner’s wall … at We’ll have the correct answer on Friday’s episode.

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