A Cuckoo Clock in Time: The History of Cuckoo Clocks

A cuckoo clock is a typical clock that is driven by a pendulum, striking every hour with the use of small pipes and bellows that strike a wire gong while perfectly imitating the call of a Common Cuckoo. The system of small pipes and bellows that replicate the cuckoo call was first invented during the middle of the 18th century and is still in use even in modern cuckoo clocks nearly without any variations made.

Cuckoo clocks in history

It's not clear who made the very first cuckoo clock but it has been established that when this unusual clock was made, it gained popularity throughout the region very quickly. By the time the mid-18th century rolled around, several of the small clockmaking shops in Black Forest had been producing wooden cuckoo clocks and offering cuckoo clock repair. As for the exact origin of this clock, there is a favorite legend making its way around that the clock was the brainchild of a mechanic from Black Forest, Franz Anton Ketterer, in 1730. However, this can't be true as clock is so much older than Black Forest's clockmaking industry. Reference books today record that this clock was in existence as early as 1650. That's nearly a century until it made its way to Black Forest. When the clock did become popular in Black Forest, clockmakers came up with a distinct Black-Forest type called the Rahmenuhr or Framed-clock. The cuckoo clock was so popular that even regions not famed for their clockmaking also adopted the design and produced their own.

The chalet style

The chalet style for old cuckoo clocks originated in Switzerland close to the end of the 19th century, during which the cuckoos were highly popular as Swiss souvenirs. There are three basic types of the chalet style currently in circulation: the Black Forest chalet, the Swiss chalet (further broken down in the Emmental and the Brienz), and the Bavarian chalet. Along with the usual cuckoo bird, the chalet style clocks featured animated figurines, like turning water wheels and moving beer drinkers and woodcutters.

A glimpse of the past

The finest and largest collection of antique cuckoo clocks in the world are on display in the UK at the Cuckooland Museum. This way, anyone wanting and needing to see the progression of the cuckoo clock can visit and see what clockmakers of the past have created. There are also important collections on display at the Dorf- und Uhrenmuseum Gutenbach and Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, both found in Germany.

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