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My Grandfather’s Clock – Where Did It Come From?

“My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf so it stood 90 years on the floor.” Remember that old song? Believe it or not, that is where our classic grandfather clocks got their name. But wait a minute! They have been around since long before that song came out right? Yes, that is correct.

Up until that time they were called long case clocks or pendulum clocks, and they have a long history of reliable time-keeping. The Pendulum clocks use a swing weight as the time-keeping element. Invented in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens, its use was widespread due to its precise time-keeping ability. Care had to be taken when moving the clock so as to avoid changing the motion of the pendulum. This could affect the accuracy of time-keeping.

Even though Christiaan Huygens is credited with inventing the pendulum clock, it is of interest to know that Galileo conceived the idea for a pendulum clock and drew up some plans. However, it was never completed and just a line drawing of the inner workings is all that is available today.

Pendulum clocks became much more than timekeepers. To own one added to one’s status and expressed the wealth and sophistication of the owner. Many types of pendulum clocks were manufactured, but today we are more familiar with two of them: the cuckoo clock, and the long case clock, more commonly known as the grandfather clock.

Traditionally, longcase clocks were made with two types of movement. There were 8-day movements and 1-day movements. The 1-day movements were usually less expensive to purchase, but had to be wound every day. Whereas, the 8-day movement required winding only once a week. Cable driven clocks had to be wound with a key, while with weight driven movements, you had to pull on the chain until the weights came up to just under the clock’s face. Most of the clocks height is used to house the weights and the long pendulum which powers the clock mechanism and it’s chimes.

It is heartwarming to know that such a fine historical invention has remained constant in it’s appeal and reliability. When Henry Clay Work wrote the song “My Grandfather’s Clock”, in 1876, he didn’t know he was contributing to the allure of the long case clock. What a nice addition to one’s home – a durable piece of history to enjoy and pass down to future generations.