New York Wire’s musical factory steam whistle – by the numbers

Don Ryan in action.

Whistlemaster Donald Ryan is at the helm of New York Wire Cloth’s steam whistle controls, continuing the Christmas concert dating back to the 1920s in York, Pa.. The concert is set again this year at 12:15 a.m., Dec. 25. “Mr. Ryan is excited about continuing the concert tradition this year but is keeping the carol lineup a surprise because many listeners like to guess the tunes,” a news release states. Background posts: The world’s loudest music without amplification from a non-musical instrument and The world’s loudest music without amplification from a non-musical instrument – Part II and New York Wire factory whistle concert: ‘We’d stand out on our driveway to hear it’.
York Town Square posts on the New York Wire Cloth steam whistle score among the highest traffic of any individual entries in the two-plus-year history of this local history blog.
But to add to these two-dimensional posts, we now have a sample of what the whistle sounds like – the haunting, fog-horn-like sound that has serenaded York since music teacher, Karl Alex Smyser commenced the performance in the 1920s….

Or rather, the Lancaster-York Heritage Region has the sample, available at:

And now, the steam whistle, by the numbers, according to Lancaster-York Heritage Region:
Whistle’s location: 441 East Market Street, York.
Length of concert: 15-20 minutes.
Usual audience reach: 5 miles, on a clear night.
Maximum audience reach: 10-12 miles, according to some reports.
First year Marlin and Donald Ryan performed: 1955.
Years in past 58 that concert was canceled: 1986 and 2005.

Those wishing to make donations for future Steam Whistle Concerts may send their tax deductible contributions to: STEAM WHISTLE CONCERT FUND, c/o PeoplesBank, 48 East Market Street, York, PA 17401, or call the Lancaster-York Heritage Region at 717-252-0229.

A sampling of other factory whistle posts
York County enthusiasts could find historical event, site to visit every day.
World War II-era air raid siren discovered atop Yorktowne Hotel.
Unusual valve gave steam whistle prominence in World War II.
The world’s loudest music without amplification from a non-musical instrument
The world’s loudest music without amplification from a non-musical instrument – encore
All factory whistle posts from the start.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
This entry was posted in Archives, all posts, Events, For photo fans, Local landmarks, Made in York, N.Y. Wire/Whistle, People, Small-town life. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to New York Wire’s musical factory steam whistle – by the numbers

  1. ME ME ME says:

    Why does it cost so much to operate?

  2. Robert says:

    End the noise. It’s awful. Why would anyone want to listen to this at midnight Christmas Eve? I’ll be very happy if this “tradition” ends this year.

  3. Jen says:

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who doesn’t classify this awful racket as wonderful Christmas music. Yes, end it! Now that I had to move to a small apartment in North York I can unfortunately hear it again, only louder now. End this God awful noise so the rest of us can just have some peace and quiet!

  4. Ted LeGore says:

    I’ve attended the concert from 04 til this possibly last one.(Save for the cancelled concert of 05) I for one will miss the closeness of strangers gathering to welcome in Christmas together as friends. The concerts only lasted for a mere 15 – 20 minutes, save for tonights rightful marathon for someone who had skill and talent to make an attempt to help bring a little christmas joy to so many. Everyone is entitled to their opinions on the matter, but given the many other sounds that pierce the night air in York, I will gladly take a few minutes of someones attempt at spreading cheer instead of fear.

  5. Robert says:

    Sorry, but you heard something decidedly different than what I heard tonight. I didn’t hear skilled musicians playing music, I just heard loud noise. Could you even name the “songs” played? They all sounded the same. For the cost, $15,000 really?, you could hire good musicians to perform. To you this is a tradition, but for others it’s noise that ruins our Christmas Eve.

  6. DianneB says:

    This is a long-standing custom in York. I heard this music as a child. My grandmother told how she was milking cows on a Christmas eve very long ago, was tired from the days work, and heard the sound of beautiful carols played on the steam whistle drift over the valley. Thank you Mr. Ryan for playing the music.
    Louis Appel, We need help to continue this York tradition!

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