ACME Whistles and the D-Day Clicker

ACME Whistles and the D-Day Clicker


Joseph Hudson (1848–1930) was an inventor in BirminghamEngland during the late 19th century, and the founder in 1870 of J Hudson & Co, the maker of ACME whistles.

In 1883, Hudson entered a competition held by the Metropolitan Police force in London to design a better way of attracting people's attention. They were seeking something with a distinctive and loud sound that anybody could hear and immediately think: “Police”. Prior to this time the police force had to rely on cumbersome wooden hand rattles to make their noises, and whistles were only thought of as musical instruments or toys.

As the story goes, Hudson, a violin player, accidentally dropped his violin and it shattered on the floor. Observing how the discordant sound of the breaking strings travelled, Hudson had the idea to mimic this by including a small cork pea inside the whistle. This gave the whistle an ear splitting rattle that could grab attention up to 2 miles away.

Hudson won the competition his “ACME Metropolitan”, and after only one year he had taken orders for over 250,000 whistles (for used by police forces, the military, sporting bodies, railways, etc. throughout the British Empire) … and was employing 50 people in his Buckingham Street factory. His whistle is still used today by the Metropolitan Police force, and indeed many others worldwide.

Another Hudson classic is the “ACME Thunderer”which has been, and remains, the world’s most used whistle. It was also the world’s first sports whistle, and its thundering sound can be heard on football pitches, ice hockey rinks and a multitude of other sporting environments internationally.  Notably, they could be found on board the RMS Titanic; and an original was lent to the producers of the 1997 film Titanic, so that Kate Winslet could be blowing feebly on the real thing. [Ed: Google “Titanic Whistle Scene”]

But the most interesting ACME whistle was not a whistle at all.

The D-Day landings of World War II in June 1944 called for a safe way for the soldiers arriving by sea to communicate “friend, not foe” with paratroopers whilst in enemy territory. The US military commissioned Hudson to secretly produce and supply 7,000 small brass clickers, internally known as the "No.470 clicker", incorporating the spring steel blade being used in popular toys at the time.

The 101st Airborne Division were equipped with clickers only a few days prior to the invasion, and a simple protocol was established. If, during a patrol, a single “click-clack” was answered with a double “click-clack” in return, then the clicker would know that he was dealing with a friendly.

The ACME clickers (affectionately known as “crickets”) would prove to be a vital piece of survival equipment for the paratroopers involved in those D-Day landings. They have appeared in numerous feature films, e.g. The Longest Day, television series (Band of Brothers) and documentaries and are recognised by veterans the world over.

Finally, Hudson were not told the purpose of the project, and were not allowed to keep a single sample. Therefore, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019, they put out a search “The Search for the Lost Clickers of D-Day” to try and find a clicker from that original batch, to ensure this part of D-Day history could be preserved. Much to the company’s surprise, an original clicker turned up not far from their factory in Birmingham. Liz Campbell and her husband Diarmid found it among a collection of military items kept by Liz’s father, Captain Geoffrey Kemp Bond (1906–1997). Watch the BBC coverage of that quest HERE.

Story Idea: Remo Giuffré



1. ACME Thunderer
2. Joseph Hudson
3. Original ACME Metropolitan
4. Metropolitan Police Whistle Poster Advertisement, 1884
5. Original night watchman's wooden rattle (the precursor to the whistle). Credit: Heritage Images
6. J Hudson & Co factory in Birmingham
7. Kate blows her original ACME Thunderer in Titanic, 1997
8 & 9. The ACME clicker developed for D-Day
10. John Wayne with clicker in the 1962 film The Longest Day
11. Captain Geoffrey Kemp Bond's original clicker
Video: "The Search for the Lost Clickers of D-Day", BBC Central News

Back to blog