On May 31, 1859, Big Ben located at the top of the 320-foot-high Elizabeth Tower, rang out over the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, for the first time. Here are five facts you probably didn't know about Big Ben...
Big Ben Is the Name of the Bell, Not the Tower or Clock
Those who've seen London only from TV sets and movie theaters know of Big Ben as that huge tower with the clock face on it. But "Big Ben" is actually the name of just the bell inside. The clock is named the Great Clock of Westminster, and the tower has been known at different times as the Clock Tower, St. Stephen's Tower, and the Elizabeth Tower. The structure was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012, in honor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The Bell Isn’t the Original The original bell was cast by Warners of Norton, weighed 16.5 tons, and was shipped to London to be installed when the clock tower was completed. Testing of the clock went on in the meantime and was fine until the designer, Edmund Beckett Denison, changed the hammer to a much larger one. This decision caused the original bell to break, and the pieces were melted down. A new bell was cast from the melted remains of the original one, but two months later, that bell broke too. The problem was solved when the bell was turned a quarter clockwise and chimed with an even lighter hammer.
Money Makes The Time Accurate
Money may make the world go round, but it also makes the clock on Big Ben keep accurate time. Old British pennies are stacked on top of the clock’s pendulum to balance it, which makes its timekeeping more consistent and steadies its swing. By adding or taking away one of the coins changes the accuracy of the clock by 2/5ths of a second.
The Clock Survived a Nazi Bombing During World War II, the Nazis bombed central and southern England for two years, a sustained campaign known as the Blitz. One of these runs in 1941 managed to hit the building that housed the parliament and damaged the roof over Big Ben, as well as some of its dials. However, the clock kept working even though much of the structure around it needed repair. Unfortunately, the clock didn't do so well in 1949, when a flock of birds decided to rest on the clock's minute hand. Apparently, so many of them landed on the minute hand, their weight slowed the clock down enough that it became four and one half minutes slow.
Big Ben Has Been Eerily Quiet Since 2017
It shouldn't be a surprise that Big Ben occasionally needs major maintenance and refurbishing, but this latest round is a big one. Workers have been in the middle of a restoration project on the clock and tower since 2017, and as part of the project, Big Ben's regular daily chimes have stopped. This is because the loud chimes could put the workers at risk (you really don't want to be that close to the chimes because of the volume). The clock will still chime on special occasions like New Year's Eve, but until at least 2021, the clock will remain mostly silent.