Petroleum Product of the Week: Whistles
History of the Whistle
Whistles originated in China around 5,000 years ago and were made of bone or wood. The device had shown up in Europe during the 11th century, and also regularly appeared in Medieval Irish literature. They were used for various reasons ranging from spiritual to practical to entertainment purposes. It’s also known as a boatswain’s pipe and was used on naval vessels to give commands and assemble men.
Modern use of the whistle traces back to its inventor, Joseph Hudson.
Hudson was an English toolmaker who invented the device in 1884 while working out of a small workshop on St. Mark’s Square in Birmingham; he named the whistle The Acme Thunderer.
A referee first used the whistle during a sporting event in 1878. It was made of brass and was more liked than the referee waving a handkerchief or flag was because it was loud and caught everyone’s attention.
The London Police also wanted another way to grab attention in 1883, and Hudson designed the first police whistle. A pellet, usually made of cork, was put inside of the whistle and it intercepted the sound—the same design is used today.
How Whistles are Made
Whistles are made of either metal or plastic.
Metal ones are made of brass, and they’re plated with nickel or chrome. Manufacturers prefer brass because its tone and resonance qualities efficiently and consistently produce the desired sound. The ball inside of the whistle is made of a synthetic cork that differs from real cork because it does not absorb any moisture.
Metal whistles also have a petroleum-based counterpart, a rubber mouthpiece, to provide comfort. This is because the brass is subject to temperature fluctuation and can cause discomfort in extreme heat and extreme cold.
Plastic whistles were manufactured in Britain by 1914 after inventors discovered that a whistle made of hardened rubber (vulcanite) did not create the correct sound. The plastic is melted, cut with a cookie-cutter-like device, and then fit together. The pieces are then sealed and stamped with the manufacturing company’s name.
A Canadian basketball referee, Ron Foxcroft, made a plastic whistle without a pellet inside in 1987 that gives off a traditional whistle sound. The whistle underwent further innovation in 1992 when an American dentist named Howard Wright invented a whistle that produces sound underwater.
Whistles are used in various sporting events like football, swimming, basketball, soccer, and more. They’re also used to keep people safe in directing traffic and policing. Industrial plants use whistles to notify when there’s an emergency, dog handlers use them to train a service animal or teach them to herd, and trains also use them for signaling.