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Looking back at clocks
Old Clock

A few weeks ago I tried to buy a bedside alarm clock in Springfield. After visits to dollar stores, a drug store and a grocery store, I did not find one. Perhaps a store with used merchandise or hardware store may have had one but my shopping time was limited. Fifty years ago practically any store would have sold an alarm clock.

With the invention of the cell phone have clocks and watches become obsolete? Some of us still use them but obviously sales are not what they used to be. Unless it is a new device called a smart watch, people rely nowadays on the cell phone for their timepiece and alarm clock.

It is remarkable how much timekeeping has changed.

A clock is a mechanism in which a device performs regular movements in equal time intervals linked to a counting mechanism that records movement. All clocks work on this principle.

The earliest clocks were sundials. From second millennium B.C. they served to tell the time. In 1094, the Chinese monk Su Sung made a tower clock. In 1400 B.C. the Egyptians had a water wheel clock. The Saxons used a candle clock with sections marked to burn in exactly one hour.

The first mechanical clocks were in the Middle Ages and they employed the verge escape mechanism with a foliat or balance wheel timekeeper. They were invented in Europe in the 14th century and were the standard timekeepers until the pendulum clock.

By 1450, clockmakers began to make a clock driven by a spring.

In the late 1659s the first accurate clock was developed by Christiaan Huygens and it was called the pendulum clock. These clocks featured a moving pendulum and chimed on the hour announcing the hour, often with the number of chimes for the hour. Some chimed on the quarter and half hour with just a brief chime.

By 1675, a spiral balance clock, known as hairspring mechanism, was developed and the pocket watch became available for portable timekeeping.

The chronometer for sea travels came about in the 1700s.

In the late 17th century, clocks with long cases were named after songwriter Henry Clay wrote a song “My Grandfather’s Clock.” In the early 20th century, all of the long case clocks were known as grandfather clocks.

The brainwork of a clock is a series of moving wheels or gears that transmit motion from a weight or spring via the escapement to the hour and minute hands on the clock face.

The modern quartz clock is based on the piezoelectric property of the quartz gem.

What is a 17 jewel watch? Higher grade watches have customarily used jeweled movements, which means that jewels (originally natural ruby, now synthetic ruby) were actually used in the movement. These jewels are functional — they are used as the bearings for the wheel trains and in high wear parts such as the escape lever and impulse jewel.

The atomic clock is a self correcting clock that is now available thanks to microwaves and satellites and is highly accurate.

The examples in the accompanying photographs feature: a very old pendulum clock that was wound with a key at intervals to keep the clock operating; an anniversary clock known for its glass dome and visible workings often given as a wedding anniversary gift; and a weekly key wound wooden chiming mantel/table clock.

We have come a long way in being able to accurately know the time of day. Clocks are built into appliances and computers as well as cell phones. The time of day is at your fingertips but not in the way it was centuries ago.

This was compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact her at 754-6681 or email her at: