What is Grandfather Clock History?

Alex Williams
6 Min Read

When we were young, we all have noticed that big clock hanging from the wall or being kept in a corner. It was known as a tall case clock, floor clock, or long-case clock because of its structure, shape, and size. Did you know that it is called Grandfather Clock? Read Grandfather Clock history below!

1. What is a Grandfather Clock?

A Grandfather Clock is a tall, freestanding, weight-driven pendulum clock, where the pendulum is placed inside the tower of the clock. Its earliest forms were mounted on the wall but because of the heavy lead weights, it was difficult to secure. Hence, longcase clocks were developed to support these heavier clock mechanisms. The longcase of the clock was usually carved in wood, in simple or elaborate designs. 

2. When was the First Grandfather Clock Made?

The innovation of longcase clocks started with the invention of anchor escapement mechanism by Robert Hooke in 1658. British clockmaker William Clement used this mechanism in 1980 to make the first longcase clock that is now popularly known as Grandfather Clock.

Later, the clock was modified into different variations:

  • Comtoise clocks – made in the Franche-Comté region in France from 1680 till the early 1900s.
  • Bornholm clocks – Danish clocks made between 1745 and 1900.
  • Mora clocks – made in Sweden.

The first longcase clock only had the hour hand, and later the minute hand was added in the new mechanisms. Hence, this is all about the first grandfather clock history. (See Why Do Rolex Watches Hold Their Value?)

3. How does it Work?

The total escapement consists of three parts that work together. Usually, these parts are toothed gear, pendulum, and anchor engaged in the gear teeth. When the pendulum oscillates, one gear tooth escapes. The sound of tick-tock can be heard, as a result of this process. We hear two different sounds when the anchor catches a gear tooth and when it leaves the tooth. This method keeps the pendulum moving.

4. What are Winding Modes?

These grandfather clocks require regular windings to keep working. The traditional long-case clocks were available with two winding modes. One was the eight-day mode, in which winding was done only once a week. The other was one-day or 30 hours mode, in which winding was done daily. In grandfather clock history, the latter one was generally less expensive. There was a cable at the back that would unwrap itself as per the winding mode of the clock. And when the cable got completely unwrapped, then it would stop working. Thus, it meant that the winding is now required. (See Why Doesn’t Arizona Observe Daylight Savings Time?)

5. What are Clock Chime Intervals?

The quarter-hour chimes were added to clocks in the early 20th century to ring after every 15 minutes. With the completion of every fifteen minutes, the tune of the chime gets longer. That is, when the hand is at 3 (15 minutes), the tune is shortest and when the hand is at 12 (60 minutes), the tune is the longest. In later models, this chime tune could be turned off. Simple wall clocks also adopted this chime in later years, with the same tune/ chime pattern.

6. Why is it called Grandfather Clock?

In 1875, while visiting England, an American songwriter named Henry Clay Work was staying in George Hotel in North Yorkshire. There was a longcase clock in the hotel lobby which was not working. When he inquired about it, he was told that the clock had 2 previous owners. When the first owner died, the clock began showing time inaccurately, and when the second owner died, the clock stopped altogether.

The songwriter thought it to be a great story and decided to write a song on the incident. The name of the song was My Grandfather’s clock, that released in 1876. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this song is the reason behind the name of Grandfather clock. Thus, Grandfather clock history is very interesting, as is the derivation of its name. 

7. What is its Significance?

Grandfather clock had a vital significance as it told the family and workers when to work, eat and rest. Grandfather clocks history tells us that they are cultural artifacts that indicate authority. The grandfather clock impacted meaning in the lives of the middle class and power in the lives of the higher class.
(See Degradation Ceremony and its History)

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