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Vintage Nutone Doorbell

The History of Doorbells in Sears Catalogs 1896 to 1993

Sears Catalogs were the “internet superstore” for much of the last century. Sears’ “Big Book” catalogs along with brick and mortar stores likely made the giant retailer the largest single distributor of doorbells ever. Many, if not most, of those doorbells are still in service today.

In studying the doorbells found in Sears catalogs over time, we get a good picture of how doorbells evolved with technology, tastes and fashion. Identifying and dating vintage doorbells is further facilitated by reviewing the Sears Catalogs. This survey highlights significant events in that timeline.


Late 19th century doorbells depended on battery power. Urban and rural electrification precipitated the introduction of transformers that to this day, step down house current and make low voltage wiring possible and doorbells reliable. This transformed doorbells from an electrical novelty into the household necesity we depend on today.

In the 1930s, more civilized “door chimes” replaced annoying buzzers and bells. No longer did homeowners have to suffer deleterious effects from alarming bells and annoying buzzers. Door Chimes created a retro-fit market for homes already equipped with an early doorbell. A golden age of distinguished pre-war door chimes was sadly cut short by the glboal upheavel of the mid 1940s.

Post war, a new wonder material—plastic—heralded the modern movement that was the hallmark of the 1950s and the 1960s. Sears partnered with a new OEM producer, Rittenhouse, after having sold Mello-Chime and Nutone products since the 1930s. The mid 1960s saw a brief door chime renaisance at Sears. The 1970s and 1980s were pretty much the end, as Sears was forced from the hardware business. Sears Big Books were themselves history by 1993

This survey focuses on electric doorbells and door chimes found in the pages of the “big-book” or “wish book” general catalogs that Sears published each Summer and Fall. Although it is likely that Sears Specialty Electrical Catalogs featured an extended range of doorbells and door chimes These catalog pages represent the mass market for doorbell. It is likely that Sears Specialty Electrical Catalogs featured an extended range of doorbells and door chimes.