The top picture shows me by the Thames River where I am now in London, England. In the distance to the right of my head is the famous clock tower called “Big Ben.”

Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the striking clock at the northeast end of the Palace of Westminster. The nickname is frequently extended to refer also to the clock and to the entire clock tower.

In 2012, the official name of the tower was changed to “Elizabeth Tower” to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond (60th year as queen) Jubilee.

Oddly enough, the bell’s real name isn’t “Big Ben” either; it’s called the Great Bell. The nickname “Big Ben” was given to the bell. It came from Sir Benjamin Hall’s name. He was the first commissioner of Public Works in London. He was in charge of the construction of the Houses of Parliament, the building to which the tower is attached. His name was inscribed on the bell when it was casted in 1858, thus the nickname “Big Ben.” 

The bell weighs 13.7 tons or 27,400 pounds. The hammer inside the bell weighs 441 pounds. 

There are four clocks on the tower, one on each side. Each clock has a diameter of 23 feet. The hour hand is 9.2 feet long while each minute hand is 14 feet long. The tower required more than 3,000 cubic feet of stone and almost 92,000 cubic feet of bricks to construct. The face of each clock is made of 312 sections of opal glass and requires cleaning every 5 years.

Edward Dent, a clockmaker, created the initial design of the clockwork. But Edmund Beckett Denison changed Dent’s design so much that he became known as the chief designer. He wasn’t a clockmaker. He was a lawyer who, interestingly, did not patent his design, so any clockmaker is free to use it.

The faces of the clocks are lit by 28 85-watt bulbs that are so energy efficient, they can last up to 60,000 hours – that’s 2,500 days or almost 7 years!

On July 11, 1859, Big Ben chimed for the first time. However, just two months later, the bell cracked and the clock tower was silent for four years while the bell was repaired.

“Big Ben” has been featured in many movies. You can see the famous London landmark in 17 Disney films including Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians, The Parent Trap, A Christmas Carol and most recently Mary Poppins Returns. It also appeared in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), 28 Days Later (2003), V for Vendetta (2006), Like Crazy (2011), Spectre (2015), and London Has Fallen (2016).

Big Ben has stood tall through the reigns of six monarchs: Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, King George V, King Edward VIII, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. As a tribute to the first monarch that it has lived through, all of the clock’s faces are inscribed with “Oh Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First” in Latin. Aside from monarchs, here are some other historical facts about Big Ben:

• The bells toll at the 11th hour of November 11 (Remembrance Day) each year to commemorate the end of the First World War, thanks to the Armistice that took effect in 1918.
• During World War II, the Clock Tower dials remained unlit due to wartime blackout rules in the City of London.
• In 1941, a bomb from a German aircraft hit the top of the tower, resulting in exterior damages.