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Why Is It Called Big Ben?

Big Ben is actually the giant bell inside the famous Clock Tower in London. It is not the only bell in the tower, and it is certainly not the tower itself.

Big Ben

The giant bell, the official name of which is the Great Bell, is more than 7 feet tall and more than 9 feet wide and weighs 13.5 tons. It sounds an E-natural note.

Big Ben is actually Version 2.1 of the largest bell in the tower belfry. Version 1.0, weighing 16 tons, and appeared in London in 1856 but cracked before it was installed, and so officials had to order another giant bell. That one made it, uncracked, into the belfry in October 1858.

Big Ben clock tower

The tower clock ticked for the first time on May 31, 1859. The new bell made its first noise on July 11 of that year.

A hammer on the outside hit the bell, making it ring. This method, not two months into the life of the bell, cracked Version 2.0, and Version 2.1 was the result. Engineers took a bit of metal from the rim and did what repairs they could; then, they turned the bell one-eighth of a turn so the hammer wouldn't hit the cracked spot anymore. The repairs took more than three yeras to complete.

Sir Benjamin Hall was a Welsh engineer and Member of Parliament who was also First Commissioner of Works during the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament after a fire, in 1834. The new tower was part of the new construction. Because of his position, Hall has his name inscribed on the bell. For this reason, many people think that Big Ben is named for Hall. Another theory holds that the inspiration for the name was Benjamin Caunt, an 19th Century heavyweight boxing champion whose nickname was "Big Ben."

Big Ben clocks

The Clock Tower, made of brick and limestone and iron, stands 315 feet tall; to reach the top requires climbing 334 steps. The square base of the tower measures 39 feet on each side. Each of the tower's four faces has a giant clock, set in a 23-foot-diameter iron frame. Four bells inside the tower chime each quarter-hour. Big Ben chimes every hour on the hour. The original mechanism still powers the clock, although an electric motor is on standby.

The Clock Tower became Elizabeth Tower in 2012, to honor the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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