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History of the Whistle

Always play to the whistle

Wherever football is played, the chances are that the referee's whistle is an 'Acme Thunderer'.  Invented by Joseph Hudson, an English toolmaker from Birmingham, in 1884, the Thunderer has been heard in 137 countries; at World Cups, Cup Finals, in parks, playing fields and beaches across the globe.

Over 160 million Thunderers have been manufactured by Hudson & Co., which is still based in Birmingham, England. Apart from football, Hudson whistles have also been used by crewmen on the Titanic, by British 'bobbies' (policemen) and by reggae musicians.

Today the Fox 40 series of whistles are very popular with many referees because of their "pea-less" design.

1860/70s: A toolmaker in England, called Joseph Hudson, converted his humble washroom at St. Marks Square in Birmingham, which he rented for 1s. 6d. (one shilling and six pence per week) into a whistle making workshop.

1878: It was generally written that the first football match to be officiated with a whistle was held in 1878 at the English Football Association Cup 2nd Round game between Nottingham Forest (2) v Sheffield (0). This was probably the 'Acme City' brass whistle, originally made by Joseph Hudson around the year 1875.  Before that, signals where communicated by the umpires to the players by waving a handkerchief, a stick or by shouting.

In 1878, football matches were still officiated by two umpires who patrolled inside the field of play. The Referee of those days, took a subservient role on the touchline, and was only used as a mediator if the two umpires were unable to reach a decision. It would therefore have been most unlikely for the Referee of 1878 to require a whistle for his 'referring' role. The two umpires would have been the whistle blowers in these games.

1883: Joseph Hudson created the first London Police whistle to replace the hand rattle. Joseph came by accident across the distinctive sound required, when he dropped his violin. As the bridge and strings broke it murmured a dying note that lead to the perfect sound. Enclosing a pellet inside the policeman's whistle created the unique warbling sound, by interfering with the air vibration. The Police whistle could be heard over a mile away and was adopted as the official whistle of the London Bobby.

1884: Joseph Hudson, supported by his son, continued to revolutionize the world of whistles. The world's first reliable 'pea' whistle 'The Acme Thunderer' is launched, offering total reliability, control and power to the Referee.

1891: It was not until 1891 that umpires were abolished to the touchline as linesmen, and the Referee is introduced - operating for the first time on the field of play. It was probably here, when the Referee (as opposed to the umpires) first used the whistle, by which time the Referee was now regularly required to stop play for infringements. The whistle was proving to be a very useful tool indeed.

1906: The first attempts to produce moulded whistles from a material known as vulcanite were unsuccessful.

1914: As Bakelite started to develop as a moulding material, the first early plastic whistles were made.

1920: An improved 'Acme Thunderer' dates from around 1920. It was designed to be smaller, shriller and with its tapered mouthpiece, and was more comfortable for referees. Whistle 'Model No. 60.5, a small whistle with a tapered mouthpiece produces a high pitch - and could have been the type of whistle used in the first Wembley Cup Final held on 28 April 1923 between Bolton Wanderers (2) v West Ham United (0) and was designed for use in big crowds. And there was a big crowd that day of 126,047. The Model No. 60.5 is still available today.

1930: The 'Pro-Soccer' whistle, first used in 1930, had a special mouthpiece and a barrel for even greater power and a higher pitch for use in a noisy stadium.

1988: The 'Tornado 2000.' first made by Hudson was used at World Cups, UEFA Champion League matches and at the F.A. Cup Final and is a powerful whistle. This higher pitch gives greater penetration and creates a crescendo of sound that cuts through even the greatest crowd noise.

1989: The ACME Tornado is introduced and patented, and offers a range of six pea less sports whistles with high, medium and low frequencies for every sport. The Tornado 2000, was probably the ultimate in power whistles.

2004: There are many whistle manufacturers, and ACME continues to produce quality whistles. The Tornado 622 has a square mouthpiece, and is a bigger whistle. Medium high pitch with deeper discord for softer sound. Very loud but less harsh. The Tornado 635 is extremely powerful, in pitch and loudness. Its unique unconventional design is for those who want something that really stands out from the crowd. Three different and distinctive sounds; perfect for "three on three" or any situation where games are played in close proximity. The Thunderer 560 is a smaller whistle, with a high pitch.

The popular Fox 40's range also offers some excellent whistles. The FOX Classic - is their loudest, shrillest penetrating power whistle. Its patent pea-less design is ideal for outdoor safety as it is virtually indestructible, has no moving parts to jam or freeze and can be heard up to a mile away. It is the recommended safety whistle of the Scouts Association and the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards Scheme and is used by many Referees. The Fox Classic CMG has a 'Cushioned Mouth Grip' that enhances the original Fox Classic design. This added feature increases comfort and grip during prolonged use, and is ideal for officials who carry the whistle in the mouth during matches. The Fox Mini Compact, has a smaller mouthpiece, and has the same pea-less design and ultra shrill tone of the Fox Classic (it is ideal for Lady's and Children's safety). The Fox Pearl is a patented two chamber pea-less whistle, with a low pitched tone, and is another favourite with multi-sport referees and coaches. The Foxtreme, is a popular choice with younger users and is the same design as the Fox Pearl but is available in an attractive marbleized colour scheme, each whistle having it's own unique colour and pattern formation.

The Fox 40 "pea-less" whistle originated from an idea by Ron Foxcroft a USA basketball Referee who like others, had experienced problems with pea whistles not reacting quickly enough, and were unable to be heard above a large crowd noise. He explains. "They have a cork pea in them and when you blow a pea - whistle really hard, nothing comes out. When they're frozen or wet or get some dirt inside, they lose their efficiency."

Foxcroft listed a number of improvements that could enhance the performance of a whistle, and showed them to, Dan Bruneau the President a plastics moulding company Promold Corporation, based in Stoney Creek, Ontario. The company agreed to manufacture the whistle parts designed by Foxcroft.  Promold went on to perfect a plastic moulded injection process that ultrasonically welded together whistle parts, rather than glued them. Chuck Shepherd, an Ontario design consultant took on the project.  It took 14 prototypes to perfect the first Fox 40 pea-less whistle, which was patented on Ron Foxcroft's 40th birthday.

This whistle was first professionally used at the Basketball, Pan Am Games in Indianapolis.  It was not long after this, that other sports realised its quality.  Its tones were heard above the crowd at the Seoul Olympics, and was the predominant whistle used by Referees in the 1990 World Cup Soccer held in Italy and the 1994 World Cup held in the United States. The Fox 40 whistle is now patented in many Countries, and is popular not only with Referees, but with coaches, water safety, rescue teams, personal safety, dog owners and trainers, and many other sports enthusiasts.  It is also an approved and recommended sound signalling device with Coast Guards Worldwide.

How does a whistle work?

All whistles have a mouthpiece where the air is forced into a cavity or hollow confined space. The air stream is split by a bevel, and partly whirls around the cavity before exiting though an opening (or sound hole) which is usually small in proportion to the size of the cavity. The size of the whistle cavity and the volume of air contained in the whistle determine the pitch or frequency of the sound produced.

The whistle construction and the design of the mouthpiece also have a dramatic effect on sound. A whistle made out of thick metal will produce a brighter sound compared to the more resonant mellow sound if thinner metal is used. Modern whistles are produce using different types of plastic, which increases the tones and sounds now available. The design of the mouthpiece can also dramatically alter the sound. Even a few thousandths of an inch difference in the airway, angle of the blade, size or width of the entry hole, can make a drastic difference as far as volume, tone, chiff (breathiness or solidness of the sound) are concerned.

In a pea whistle, the air stream enters through the mouthpiece as shown (1). It hits the bevel (2), and splits outwards into the air, and inwards filling the air chamber (3) until the air pressure inside the chamber is so great, it pops out of the sound hole, making room in the chamber for the whole process to start over again. The pea (4) gets forced around and around and interrupts the flow of air and changes the rate of air packing and unpacking inside the air chamber. This creates the sound of the whistle warble.

The air stream enters through the whistle's mouthpiece as shown.

The air inside a whistle chamber packs and unpacks 263 times every second to make the note middle-C. The faster the packing and unpacking is, the higher- pitched the sound the whistle creates.


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