May 31,1859: London’s Big Ben starts ticking
Back in 1859, the last day of May would mark the first time that the citizens of London would hear the first chimes of the clock that would later become known as Big Ben. The clock’s legacy actually sprang from a devastating fire in October of 1834 that took out most of the Palace of Westminster a.k.a. the meeting place for the British Parliament. While designs for the palace’s repairs were being drawn up, someone got the bright idea that they might as well add an awesome clock to one of the towers while they were at it.
The granddaddy of clocks everywhere
To this day, Big Ben still perches atop the 320-foot tall St. Stephen’s Tower and is considered a major London landmark. But its rise to stardom wasn’t always an easy one. When the idea for building it first came about, this guy named Sir George Airy suggested that it shouldn’t just be any ordinary clock, but the clock that sat the standards for all others. See, Airy was a royal astronomer and wanted Big Ben to gain a reputation for its incredible accuracy. Some clockmakers thought the goal far too lofty, but with the help of Edmund Beckett Denison, an expert in time measurement, Airy’s goal became a reality.
How Big Ben’s bell got its crack
The clock’s second challenge was its massive bell and how exactly to get it installed. Not to be deterred, however, the people of London drug the 13-ton bell through the streets with the help of 16 horses. The struggle didn’t stop once the bell was installed or even after its famous first chimes. As it turned out, the interior hammer was a bit heavy and cracked the side of the bell just two months into its service. It would be three years until someone got around to replacing the hammer with a lighter one and rotating the bell so that the existing crack wouldn’t get any worse. Though Big Ben seems to have been ticking fine ever since the original crack still remains in the bell to this day.