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The first methods of telling time consisted only of watching the sun and the stars in their regularly spaced journeys across the heavens.
By observing the lengthening and diminishing shadows of the trees the idea of the sundial was derived.
Hourglasses, or sand glasses, the same as you use today to time soft boiled eggs, were used in a larger size very early in history. They are mentioned as early as 1550 B.c.
Along with hourglasses, water clocks were the first mechanical time-telling devices. The water clock, which was introduced into Greece by Plato, was a vessel with a hole through which the water escaped; the level of the remaining water denoted the time. The ancient Greeks adjusted their water clocks to denote the amount of remaining daylight, whatever the season. This seems to be the forerunner to our annoying daylight saving time.
Candles were another early method for telling time. The candle was marked off in inches which burned at the rate of twenty minutes per inch, thus giving a fairly accurate measure.
By combining these last two methods for telling time, the time lamp was invented. The pewter lamp, similar to the Betty lamp in shape and design, differed in that it had a glass font on top to hold the oil. This oil font is marked with Roman numerals to denote the hours, so that the gradual lowering of the oil as the lamp burned registered the time. One was found a few years ago in a small antique shop. It was in excellent condition, but the glass font was missing. Upon inquiring the price, the customer was informed, "You can have that old ashtray for two dollars."
The first modern clock was invented in the thirteenth century. It had but one hand and a balance or fly-wheel escapement. In the middle of the seventeenth century, the minute hand was added along with the pendulum.
A little later the spiral spring clock was made, as was the one run by weights. Clocks driven by the coiled spring method were more expensive and more complicated than those driven by falling weights, because when only the cords broke they were easily replaced, while a broken spring was a major repair job.
Contrary to logical thinking, metal works in clocks are older than wood. The wooden works were much cheaper to make than brass and were manufactured from the 1790's to around 1835. Metal-work clocks also were made during the same time.
The long pendulum swinging below the clock on the wall gave to it the name of "Wag-on-the-wall" clock.
By enclosing this whole in a standing case the grandfather clock came into being. About 1700 this distinguished type of tall clock was developed with a heavy cornice and a flat top. By 1725 cabinetmakers added the hood with its graceful arched top. The grandfather clock was now a lovely piece of furniture, harmonious with the Chippendale furniture fashionable at that time.
Smaller clocks of the same general appearance as the grandfather clocks are known, logically, as grandmother clocks.
The cases of clockworks, being furniture, vary with the different styles. These cases were sometimes made by the clockmaker, but more often by a cabinetmaker. Some are very elaborate. J. Goddard is known to have made block front clocks circa 1765.
An "improved timepiece" was invented in 1801 by Simon Willard and is now called the banjo clock. The works of this banjo-shaped clock were of brass and had great accuracy. Made to hang on the wall with a small bracket to help support it, this popular clock was imitated by other makers and the pattern became well known.
The "pillar and scroll" clock first made by Eli Terry in 1814 was one of the first, if not the very first, articles to be made by quantity production and in the popular-priced field. A pleasingly shaped mantel clock, the pillar and scroll was made both with wood and brass works, and tan thirty hours. They were produced for twenty-five years or more and were exported to foreign countries in large numbers.
The steeple clock of the mid-nineteenth century was another popular mantel clock. It takes its name from the steeplelike appearance of its case.