Buzzer (whirligig)

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For other uses, see Buzzer (disambiguation).
The Saw-Mill, an American home-built buzz toy.[1]

A buzzer (buzz, bullroarer, button-on-a-string), is an ancient mechanical device used for ceremonial purposes and as a toy. It is constructed by centring an object at the midpoint of a cord or thong and winding the cord while holding the ends stationary. The object is whirled by alternately pulling and releasing the tension on the cord. The whirling object makes a buzzing or humming sound, giving the device its common name.

A buzzer is often constructed by running string through two of the holes on a large button and is a common and easily made toy.

American Indians used the buzzer as a toy and, also ceremonially, as to call up the wind. Early Indian buzzers were constructed of wood, bone, or stone, and date from at least the Fourche Maline Culture, c. 500 B.C.[2][3]

North American Buzzers, Buzzes, etc.
BuzzerCree1912.jpg BuzzerEskimo1892.jpg BuzzerGirl1916.jpg
Eastern Cree
"A Buzzer of Bone"[4]
"Buzz Toy"[5]
American Girl
"Whirligig Made from
a Large Button"[6]
Drawing, "Toy Buzz", U.S. Patent 193201, 1877.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Beard, The American Boys Handy Book, p. 360: "A Saw-Mill; it was generally made out of the top of a tin blacking-box, with the rim knocked off and the edge cut into notches like a saw. Two strings passing through two holes near the centre gave a revolving motion to the 'buzzer'."
  2. ^ Kroeber, "The Arapaho: Religion", p 396: "A bone buzzer made of the foot-bone of a cow, and called, like a bull-roarer, 'hateikuuca,' is sometimes used in the ghost-dance to start the singing."
  3. ^ Skinner, "'Notes on the Eastern Cree and Northern Saulteaux", p. 141: "Bull roarers of several kinds not only serve as amusements but are carried by hunters, who use them to bring the wind. The outfit consists of a central wooden disc or cylinder or of a scaphoid bone of a deer or moose. A string is attached to each side and a grip or handle place transversely at right angles to the end of the string. The whole is held loosely and the central disc revolved until the string is very much twisted. Then, by tightening and loosening the string, the cord unwinds and rewinds itself with great rapidity causing the middle piece to revolve and make a loud, buzzing noise."
  4. ^ Skinner, "'Notes on the Eastern Cree and Northern Saulteaux", p. 140: "Fig. 50 (50-8052). A Buzzer of Bone."
  5. ^ Powell, Ninth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, p. 378: "Fig. 376.—Buzz Toy."
  6. ^ Hall, Handicraft for Handy Girls, p. 190: "Fig. 347.—Whirligig Made from a Large Button."


  • Beard, D.C. The American Boys Handy Book: What to Do and How to Do It. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. (1907).
  • Hall, A. Neely; Perkins, Dorothy. Handicraft for Handy Girls: Practical Plans for Work and Play. Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co. (1916).
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. "The Arapaho," Part IV "Religion, Bulletin American Museum of Natural History Vol. XVIII. New York: Published by Order of the Trustees (1907)
  • Skinner, Alanson. "Notes on the Eastern Cree and Northern Saulteaux", Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, pp. 1–178. New York: Published by Order of the Trustees (1912).
  • Powell, J.W. (Director). Ninth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 1887-'88. Washington, D.C.: Government printing Office (1892).
  • Wells, J.B. Toy Buzz. US Patent #193201. US Patent Office (May 21, 1877).