Great Design Under $100 – December 2010
November 1, 2010
Grandfather Clocks Rhythm Clocks
November 14, 2010
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Nowadays, grandfather clocks and accurate timekeeping are taken for granted by many.  So are electricity, plumbing, travel by Air and Rail, land-line telephones, heating, running water, air conditioning, television and movies, cell phones, computers. and even iPhones.

But let’s step back in time almost 500 years, back in Italy and the Town of Pisa, where a young child was to soon come up with many theories which would help shape science and technology for centuries to come.

Galileo Galilei, more often simply known as Galileo, is viewed by most people as the father of astronomy.  Less well known is that he is considered by many to also be the father of pendulum clocks and grandfather clocks.

Galileo grew up in Pisa, Italy, as an apparently bored teenager attending Church, he noticed Church lamps swinging in the wind, and he hypothesized that their apparent swinging pattern suggested that something like a pendulum, which had yet to be invented, could correctly keep time in a consistent and reliable way, and more accurately than the verge escapements which were used in the very earliest pocket watches and emerging clocks in the 1500s.

Since the dawn of civilization, human beings have been striving for ways to track and keep time more and more accurately.  Before clocks, the movement of the Sun, as well as the moon and the stars in the heavens, were tracked with patterns all geared towards not only being better able to track time, but also the Seasons, and the tides for Ocean travel.  The Ancient Sumerians used the Sundial and divided the day and night into segments measured in hours.  Cleopatra’s Needle was one method used by the Ancient Egyptians to divide day and night, and the day into defined blocks of time.  Hourglass and Sand Timers were used for many centuries as a way to mark the passage of specific periods of time.

In approximately 1582 is when Galileo first witnessed the swinging motion of the chandelier in the Pisa Cathedral, and correctly thought the swinging motion could be sustainable and an accurate way to measure time.  His great revelation was recognizing the property of isochronism, which is that regardless of the length of the swinging object or pendulum, the time taken to go back and forth was equal time intervals in each individual case.  Galileo also correctly calculated the mathematical impact of having pendulums of differing heights and pendulum bobs of different weights.  One of the first practical applications of his theories was the development and invention of the Metronome.

In 1641, Galileo sketched out what is widely believed to be the very first design for a pendulum clock.  Although neither he nor anyone else at that time built a working prototype, it is fair to credit Galileo, based on his designs, with the invention of the first freestanding floor clock or grandfather clock.

Many grandfather clock historians will credit Christiaan Huygens, who in 1673 published the first widely seen theories of pendulum driven grandfather clocks.  Descendants of his became well known makers of clocks in the many decades and centuries to follow.  Generally speaking, the introduction of the grandfather clock in 1650 in Britain is the generally accepted time-frame in horological history.  It also tracks with the timepieces we have seen over the years.

Galielo’s design but not development of a pendulum grandfather clock is reminiscent of Leonardo DaVinci’s design but not development of the fusee clock movement, which was another great advance in timekeeping, and used centuries later, and still in use today and considered the gold standard for accurate clock timekeeping that is not weight-driven.

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