An indispensable device for locating sounds caused by defects

Using a mechanic’s stethoscope, more specifically a Motor Stethoscope, to pinpoint a problem in the engine of an automobile. “Advertising – Motor Stethoscope Company.” Air, June 1928, 43.

Hello there, my reading friend. Are you ready to be submerged by waves of pontificating prose? That’s too bad because you will not get that today. Yours truly was sure there was plenty of information on the mechanic’s stethoscope we just saw in an ad published in the June 1928 issue of a long forgotten magazine, the British monthly Air. Sadly enough, I struck out. So, let’s go over the basics.

Back in the 1910s and 1920s, listening to a misbehaving piece of machinery was one of the most elementary and effective way to detect problems and identify their source. Even so, given the background noise of a factory or workshop, figuring out where a problem was located could be tricky. While yours truly cannot say when the first factory-made mechanic’s stethoscope hit the market, the American weekly Motor World offered information to its readers on how to make a simple yet powerful device in its 9 June 1915 issue. Other magazines did the same thing in the 1910s and 1920s.

Motor Stethoscope Company of 24-25 Great Russell Street, London, England, saw a business opportunity and marketed its Motor Stethoscope, “an indispensable device for locating sounds caused by defects in motors and all moving mechanism,” no later than the spring of 1928. From the looks of it, this new product may not have proven particularly popular or successful given that the Women’s Needlework Depot had moved into 24-26 Great Russell Street no later than February 1929. This organisation had been founded in 1919 to provide work to qualified needlewomen who were unable to go leave their homes on a daily basis. Yours truly was not able to find out how long this charitable institution survived, either there or elsewhere.

It is worth noting, or not, however, that Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of the great American novelists of the 19th Century, spent some time at 24 Great Russell Street in 1857. Back in 1853, he had been named United States consul in Liverpool, in the United Kingdom – a prestigious posting second only to that of the consul in London. This appointment came to an end in early 1857 when a new president took office. As a result, Hawthorne took his family on a tour of France and the Italian peninsula – en expression used because Italy as a country did not exist in the 1850s. In any event, Hawthorne and his family returned to the United States in 1859. And you thought that our blog / bulletin / thingee had nothing to offer on matters of culture, didn’t you, my reading friend? Yes, yes, you did. Do not deny it. Apologies, I digress.

Was that the end of the mechanic’s stethoscope as a concept, my reading friend? You may be happy to hear (read?), or not, I give you the option (You’re welcome.), that another small London-based company launched a product of this type in 1935-36. Its designer was a mechanical engineer and keen fisherman. This gentleman was in fact the newly appointed managing director of the company. He was Charles Edward Noel-Storr.

Just like the Motor Stethoscope, Capac Company Limited’s Bin-Aural was somewhat similar in appearance to a medical stethoscope. The main innovation of this device was that the test rod, or tectoscope, which touched the misbehaving piece of machinery, could be used in conjunction with another tectoscope or with some sort of microphone, known as a tectophone, using the same pair of earphones. Using a Bin-Aural, a mechanic could pinpoint the source of a sound, or listen to that sound from 2 different perspectives. Well known British aeroengine makers like Armstrong Siddeley Motor Limited, Bristol Aeroplane Company Limited and D. Napier & Son Limited counted among the users of this small and simple device. Whether or not the Bin Aural was produced in large numbers is unclear. This being said (typed?), Capac sold medical stethoscopes until the 1960s.

Was that finally the end of the mechanic’s stethoscope, you ask, my eager to go somewhere else reading friend? Well, no. Being mechanically inept, yours truly did not know that many mechanics of the Cold War era remained well versed in the art of detecting trouble in machinery by listening to it as it ran. Would you believe that an American tool maker, Bingham-Herbrand Corporation, commercialised a mechanic’s stethoscope as late as 1951? The Multiscope MS-1 owed its origin to Eugene A. Heschel, a company employee who designed other tools for his employer. Two other American companies, Yale and Towne Manufacturing Company and Rinck-McIlwaine Incorporated, introduced similar devices no later than 1956. A British company, J.G. Coates Limited, launched its Auto-Stethoscope no later than 1963.

Better yet, a German tool maker, Eduard Wille Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung & Company Kommanditgesellschaft, was still making at least one type of mechanic’s stethoscope in 2018, and it was not the only company to do so. That very year, Canadian Tire Corporation Limited was still selling at least one other type of mechanic’s stethoscope. How amazing is that?

To conclude, the story of the mechanic’s stethoscope was a pretty neat one, wouldn’t you say, my reading friend? Do say yes, please, yours truly needs the positive reinforcement. Yes? Good. Until next time, fare thee well.

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Rénald Fortier