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Doorbells Transformed: Sears First Transformer

Early doorbell adopters had to be certain their batteries held a charge or else their doorbell wouldn’t ring. And in the early 1900s, you couldn’t just plug in a recharger. Batteries needed to be replaced at considerable inconvenience and expense. Generated electricity was being brought to an increasing number of American homes for lighting. Electric Doorbells were certainly one of the very first first ancillary uses for residential eletricity.

Soon, a new technology would make battery operated doorbells and buzzers all but obsolete except for specialty applications and rural areas far from generated electricity.

The Sears 1913 Fall catalog featured the first “Bell Ringing Transformer, ” although transfomers may have made an earlier appearance in Sears Specialty Electric Catalog. The new device was described (without a drawing) in the 1913 “Big Book” as follows:

Sears First TransformerBy means of this Transformer, ordinary door bells or buzzers can be rung with electric lighting current, thus doing away with the use of batteries

The introduction of transformers on the heels of urban electrification changed the industry. Transformers allow a low voltage to be delivered to the doorbell button and the bell, buzzer or chime. This greatly simplified the expense of wiring and increased the reliability. Low voltage is especially critical as a safety measure, particularly at the doorbell button, which is often exposed to the weather at the front door.

In 1913, a transformer was a relative luxury ringing in at $2.40 which was more than ten times the cost of a 23 cent Sears Door Bell or Buzzer.

By 1915 transformer prices had dropped in half. And by 1917, Sears was marketing transformers to “save on battery expense.”

In less than two decades, doorbells, which began the century as technical novelties, had become reliable necessities in an ever increasing number of homes. After all, if your front door sported a modern push button inviting your callers to ring your doorbell, a dead battery woud entirely negate the convenience.

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