The J. C. Deagan Dinner Chimes

T he largest manufacturer of dinner chimes in the United States was the J. C. Deagan Company of Chicago. John Calhoun Deagan patented the dinner chime in the early years of the 20 th century, and Deagan was the preeminent name in the field. A 1979 Antique Wireless Association magazine article on the development of the NBC Chimes written by retired NBC engineer Robert Morris (who assisted in the development of the Rangertone chimes) specifically mentions four-tone Deagan chimes throughout his article.
Deagan made a number of different models in several different keys, with slightly differing chime plates and resonators, and in three, four, and five tone versions. By sifting through surviving recordings of hand-struck NBC chimes, I believe I have narrowed down the exact models of Deagan chimes that were used as network identifiers.
In researching the Deagan Dinner Chimes used on the air by NBC, I made several interesting discoveries. Despite the fact that J. C. Deagan himself spearheaded the campaign to make A= 440 Hz the official concert pitch, all vintage Deagan Dinner Chimes that I have encountered are pitched in the old "International Pitch" favored by the American Federation of Musicians, in which A= 435 Hz.
The chimes themselves, as will be detailed with each model, came in several different "keys"; however, the relationships between the individual notes were always the same. They were based on the lip partials of brass instruments, and Deagan published small songbooks filled with military bugle calls that could be played on any Deagan chime, no matter which chime or in which key it played. In fact, Deagan literature and music books always referred to the chime plates as being G, C, E, and G no matter what the actual notes really were.
Deagan chimes are always structured as follows:
  •  The 200 Series consisted of four steel chime plates, tuned in ascending order to the notes G, C, E, and G. The two G notes were an octave apart, and the C was one octave above Middle C. This is the chime heard on the earliest recordings of the NBC chimes, the seven and five note sequences from 1929 through 1931 . (Mention of a four note sequence occurs in NBC timelines, but no recordings of that sequence have ever been made public.)
The 200 Series dinner chime was sold in quite an array of colors in its early years, later tapering off until by the end of production it was only available with brushed gold chime plates above ivory resonators. The full list of colors (not all were produced at the same time), and their prices, are:
  • 200 - Mandarin Red base with black chime plates- $6.00
  • 201 - Bronze base and chime plates - $6.00
  • 203 - Black base with chromium chime plates - $7.00
  • 204 - Ivory base with chromium chime plates - $7.00
  • 205 - Ivory base with brushed gold chime plates - $7.00
  • 206 - Red base with brushed gold chime plates - $7.00
  • 207 - Blue base with brushed gold chime plates - $7.00
  • 208 - Van Dyke Brown base with ivory chime plates - $6.00
  • 209 - Egyptian Green base with ivory chime plates - $6.00
Because of its low price and "smart design", the 200 series became the flagship instrument of the Deagan Dinner Chime line. By the 1950 s it was being billed in catalogs as "The World's Most Popular Dinner Chimes".
 The modern xylophone as we know it was a Deagan creation.  One of the most recognizable names in the field of mallet percussion is the namesake of the J. C. Deagan Company, John Calhoun Deagan. Trained as a concert clarinetist, Deagan's dissatisfaction with the intonation of the glockenspiels used in theater orchestras with which he performed led him to experiment with the acoustics and tuning of the instrument. As a result of these experiments and his study of the German physicist Hermann Helmholtz's doctrine on acoustics, On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music (1862), Deagan developed the first scientifically tuned glockenspiel.(Xylophones have bars of metal rather than of wood, and so are  regarded as a glockenspiels or metallophones, rather than as xylophones.)This was the beginning of a career that has affected every musician and percussionist for the past 120 years.By 1912 had constructed the Deagan building in Chicago, which was advertised at that time as the largest manufacturing facility for musical instruments in the world. Beginning in 1898 he gave his entire time to the manufacture of the instruments he had invented. Starting as a one-man operation in St. Louis, Mo. [1004 Market Street], he moved to San Francisco, Calif. [1893], and finally to Chicago, Ill. [1897]. [The company existed at several addresses, including 358 North Dearborn Street, 2419 Wabash Avenue, 2157 North Clark Street at Grace Street, and finally at the corner of Berteau and East Ravenswood Avenues.] The business was incorporated in 1913 as J. C. Deagan Musical Bells, Inc. Three years later [April 14, 1916] the name was changed to J. C. Deagan, Inc. He was president of the corporation from its inception until the close of his life.