Can you imagine watching a hockey game in which the referee, clad in shirt,
not striped, a vest and tie, carried a bell to ring to stop the game for
penalties? The first hockey games were played in the mid-1800’s and this is
what the referees used. A bell. Real ring of authority, right?
The whistle was invented in 1883 for use by London policemen to replace the
hand rattles they had been using. A rattle. That doesn’t have a real sound
of authority either, does it? They did not think so either and were glad to
adopt the whistle.
Birmingham, England, toolmaker, invented the whistle by reproducing the
sound made by a string on his breaking violin when it fell off a table. The
following year he introduced a second version, the pea whistle. This sound
was more pleasant and adapted to sports referees. At first they did not want
to use this “new fangled nonsense.” They felt they could get along “very
well without that silly thing.” But gradually they came to accept the pea
whistle as standard referee equipment.
Although football referees now use a different style of whistle, hockey and
rugby refs still use the pea whistle.