History Of Clocks & Clock Movements

Clocks work

In the beginning of civilization, knowing what time it is had stayed elusive and hap hazard at best, till the 14th century.

With the advart of mechanical clock movements and rapid technical advancement civilization has progressed to accurate time keeping to a second off every 20 million years.

Estimate at Best

The earliest people used the position of the sun in the sky to tell morning and evening with the horizon.  During the day was a complete estimate except midday.  This didn’t work at all during the night, season changes and cloudy days.

Sun Dials

Around 3500 B.C.,the Egyptians began to use huge obelisks as sun dials. They would cast shadows on the ground which changed position during the day as the sun traveled across the sky.

This along with smaller sun dials by 1500 B.C,was a slight improvement. The problem of nights and cloudy days still existed.

Shadow Clock (Sun Dial)

Another Egyptian sundial or shadow clock, possibly the first portable timepiece, came into use around 1500 B.C. This device divided a sunlit day into 10 parts in the morning and evening.

When the long stem with 5 variably spaced marks was oriented east and west in the morning, an elevated crossbar on the east end cast a moving shadow over the marks. At noon, the device was turned in the opposite direction to measure the afternoon “hours”.

Water Hour Glass

Hour glasses came on the scene about 3400 B.C.,which were very primitive and fraught with problem.

These hour glasses consisted of a bowl with a hole in the bottom that water dripped through.

Consistancy couldn’t be maintained because of the pressure of the water traveling through the hole.  All though it did take care of the problem of night time and cloudyness temperture change and freezing was also a big problem.

Sand Hour Glass

Sand hour glasses came about around 700 A.D.  This hour glass used sand being poured through a small hole into a glass tube.  This was much improved over the water hour glass.  The problem with this time keeping device was it only measured small amounts of time and was effected by humitity.

Mechanical Clocks

A huge leap accured in the 14th century when mechanical clocks appeared.  The first clock during this period had no face, hour or minute hands.  They struck a bell every hour.  More improvements brought about faces and hands on the clocks.  These early mechanical clock movements worked by having  a lever that pivated and mashed with a toothed wheel(gear) at certain intervals.  The speed of the clock movements was powered by weights or springs.

Keywind Clock Movement

In the 15th century, Coiled springs unwinding could be used to drive the movement of the hand of the clock was discovered  This clock movement was in addition to weight or springs that made smaller clocks and later watches possible. This is the same dependable movement used in our grandfather clocks, wall clocks, and table / mantel clocks.

Pendulum Clock Movement

In 1656,Christian Huygens invented the pendulum clock.  Whether using coil springs being wound (keywind) or weighted chain drive the pendulum made the clocks accurate with in a minute or two per day compared to 15 minutes a day of earlier clocks.  This is the same movement used today in grandfather clocks, cuckoo clocks, and wall clocks.

Pocket  Watch

The need for accurate time keeping at sea was so crusial that in 1714 the British Parliament offered a cash reward to invent one.  To know the exact location at sea through latatude and longatude,an accurate and small time piece was needed. Large pendulum clocks were impractical on ships.  After 4 attempts in 1761,John Harrison succeeded in inventing a small enough clock to be used for navigation at sea.  The tiny pocket watch lost only 5 seconds in 6 1/2 weeks.  This was the fore runner of wrist watches.

Mass Production

In the early 19th century the most important event not only in clock making,but in history took place.  the introduction of mass production and interchangable part.  This was fueled by the industrial revolution.  Before this time grandfather clocks or any other clocks were only available to the wealthy.  Eli Terry was the main driver in the clock industry at the time receiving the first patent issued by the Patent Office in 1801.

Time Zones

During the mid to late 19th century the need for uniform time standards brought about worldwide time zones.  In 1852,England implemented a telegraph network that transmitted “Greanwich Means Time”,so the whole country was on the same time.  In 1884, 4 time zones were created in the United States.  In 1884, worldwide time zones were adopted by 25 countries.

Quartz Movement

At the beginning of the 20th century,only women wore wrist watches.  Wide spread use by men happened after the first World War.Wearing watches by men was not seen as manly. 

The military implemented wide spread use of wrist watches because it was much more efficiant during battle as apposed to a pocket watches.

By the 1950’s digital watches came about which used electrical currents running through quartz crystals to cause vibrations to operate the movements. This is the type movement used in our grandfather clock, cuckoo clocks, wall clocks, and table /mantel clock.

Atomic Clocks

The latest leap in time keeping was acheived in 1967, when atomic clocks were invented using oscillations of cesium-133 atoms to tell time.  This clock has an error ratio of 1 second for every 1.4 million years.  In 1999 with the development of the cesium fountain atomic clock the error rate dropped to only one second every 20 million years.  This is the most accurated clock in the world.

Rapid advancements in technology will keep scientists striving to create the perfect clock in the future.  100% accuratey may not be attainable but we have come a very close.  Remarkable improvements of already discovered time keeping devices are destined to continue.