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Jefferson Electric "Junior Bell Ringer" Transformer

When one lives in an old house, as I do, it's not hard to find a few curios sprinkled around. The house I live in dates from the early 1900s and it's been remodeled several times, most significantly in the mid 1940s to early 1950s. There is evidence of many interesting things having been removed as time wore on and more modern technology came along: a covered opening into the chimney stack in the kitchen for some sort of woodburning stove, various standpipes that were presumably for hand pumps that seem likely to have been connected to a cistern and the remants of a rainwater collection system with a diverting valve meant to send water into the storm sewer or off to the cistern.

Jefferson Electric Junior Bell Ringer TransformerPerhaps the most interesting thing was the one we noticed first, upon inspecting the electrical panels, not long after moving in. It's quite likely that this home, having been built by someone with wealth, was equipped with electricity from the very beginning. Some of what I believe to have been the original electrical service equipment is still in use. In amongst those things is an electrical transformer that has probably been forgotten. Identified as a Jefferson Electric "Junior Bell Ringer", it probably did operate some kind of bell or signal. Would it have run a doorbell, buzzer or even something else? I think the curly wires leaving its secondary output look pretty cool, though I've never been able to trace them. They soon disappear to points unknown, and I'm not about to rip down the ceiling or wall material to figure out where they go when so much equally elderly wiring runs through that same area. (I've theorized about how to trace the curly wires throughout the years, but have never actually invested the effort.) Our "current" doorbell is a 1940s-something Rittenhouse model that someone added, and it runs from a separate 24 volt transformer mounted to the ceiling in another part of the basement. (I'd say "modern", but that seems like a misnomer when it's been around for seven decades and counting. Still, it was quite modern at the time, having user selectable chiming patterns and adjustable volume. Its brain is basically a small analog "computer" driven by a synchronous AC motor.) Before you might suggest that the Rittenhouse chime is powered from this Jefferson transformer, bear in mind that it outputs 12 volts AC, where the Rittenhouse chime uses 24 volts. I also know exactly where the Rittenhouse transformer is! (It's the original and thus has Rittenhouse stamped into its frame.)

The upstairs used to contain a door going outside to nowhere, other than a very sudden dropoff. At one time, it probably led to some kind of deck or stairs. Although the porch light and its switch were still present (however unused), there was no sign of bell wiring anywhere near that door when it was removed and walled over. We've blatantly hypothesized that this house (like so many others) might have been set up as an apartment at one time. (If it was, the kitchen facilites were almost certainly shared amongst its occupants. A second bathroom located upstairs was added at some point in the 1970s.)

All that's getting waaaay off the subject, though. I've long been curious about this transformer's age and possible purpose (beyond the obvious). I'd love to know approximately how old it might be, and that's a lot of the reason why I decided to throw this page up and see if anyone might write in with more information. It's worked before!

There's not a whole lot of information to be found online about Jefferson Electric. Roger Russell's web pages about Jefferson's line of mystery clocks are about it. Google's book scanning project has collected a lot of interesting history. With a bit more trawling than I'd done at first, some advertisments and pictures of the Junior Bell Ringer I have did show up. You'll notice that the input terminal design on my example is a bit different from that shown. These date from around 1918 (or slightly before) to about 1923.

Jefferson Electric Junior Bell Ringer Advertisement from Hardware Dealer's Magazine July 1919Jefferson Electric Junior Bell Ringer advertisement from a circa 1918 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.

While there, I found another version of the Jefferson product and a different "
junior bell ringer" product from the Viking Electric Company of New York.

One might suggest asking Roger Russell if he's got any more information about the Jefferson Electric Company or this transformer, and while he might, I'm hesitant to send any e-mail that way. When I enquired of him about some projection clocks, I never got a reply and that entire portion of his web site vanished. Coincidence? Probably. The timing was too perfect, though.

Jefferson Electric is still around today, though they've been through many hands. I can't imagine that they'd have any information about this transformer today, and so I've never contacted them to ask.

In fact, about the only thing I can tell you is that it still works here in March of 2018. (Yes, it took me a long time to do that because brevity just isn't my style.) As their advertisement said, "when once installed will last a lifetime without further attention".

Testing the Jefferon Junior Bell Ringer's output voltage.

I have to wonder if it is still powering some forgotten thing within the walls of this house, as I'd expect its open circuit voltage to be much higher.

If you've come to this web page looking for more information about your own Jefferson Electric Junior Bell Ringer, I'm sorry if I have disappointed you. You might check back, though, because someone may well drop out of the shadows with more information. And of course, if you have some information about this transformer or the company, I'd really love to hear from you! Please feel free to send me some e-mail!


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Copyright 2018 by William R. Walsh. Some rights reserved. Please review the terms and conditions governing your use or reuse of this work in whole or part, available from the top level page of this server. Created 03/17/2018, updated 04/22/2018.