18th Century shelf clock Porto, Portugal

Though by no means a definitive guide the following are some important dates in the history of the clock as gathered through a variety of sources. The difficultly in affixing some dates with absolute precision results from discrepancies between sources.

Horological developments during the centuries before the mechanical clock are left out altogether. Water (Clepsydra) and sun clocks of the middle ages and astronomical clocks of ancient China deserve special mention but are the subject of a separate discourse and are not included here.

  • CA. 1300 – First mechanical verge clock, Europe
  • 1364 – Astronomical clock conceived by Giovanni de Dondi, Italy
  • 1386 – Tower (turret) clock Salisbury Cathedral, England
Salisbury cathedral clock, photo by Dr. Meghan Joiner
  • CA. 1400 – Fusee invented by Jacobs, Czechoslovakia
  • CA. 1450 – Table clock with spring and fusee, Phillip the Good of Burgundy, France
  • CA. 1500 – Mainspring invented, Germany
  • CA. 1510 – Watch invented by Peter Henlein, Germany
  • CA. 1560 – Spring driven portable clock, Germany
  • CA. 1570 – Oldest known clock with a second hand, Orpheus clock, Germany
  • 1637 – Galileo, swinging temple lamp, pendulum control conceived, Italy
  • CA. 1650 – First tower clock appears in Colonies, America
  • 1656 – Pendulum clock devised by Huygens, Holland
  • 1657 – Verge and foliot gives way to pendulum control, Huygens, Holland
  • 1658 – Long-case prototype made by Fromanteel adapted from lantern clock, England
  • 1660 – Balance wheel conceived by Hooke, England
  • CA. 1675 – Richard Towneley invents the dead-beat escapement, England
  • 1675 – Balance wheel with spiral spring invented by Huygens, Holland
  • CA. 1675 – Recoil escapement and crutch invented by Hooke in collaboration with Clement, England
  • 1676 – Rack striking developed by Barlow, England
  • 1680 – 1700 – famous horologists of this era were Arnold, Earnshaw, East, Graham, Knibb, Compion and Windmills of England; Berthoud, Breguet and LeRoy of France
  • 1701 – St Sulpice seminary tower clock (imported from France), Montreal, Canada
  • 1713 – Harrison invents marine chronometer, England
  • CA. 1715 – Break-arch dial introduced
  • 1715 – Graham perfects deadbeat escapement, regarded as the “father” of the dead-beat escapement
  • 1717 – First tower clock of America, Benjamin Bagnall, Boston
  • 1726 – Mercurial pendulum invented (temperature compensating pendulum), Graham, England
  • 1726 – Wall clock by Thomas Bennett, 8 day brass, weight driven, America
  • 1736 – Harrison’s marine chronometer tested at sea (accurately ascertaining longitude), England
  • 1770 – White dials appear in English longcase clocks
  • 1776 – Independent seconds train invented for watch, Pouzait, Switzerland
  • 1790 – Vienna regulator style case emerges in Austria
  • 1790 – American woodworks clocks begin to be appear
  • 1802 – Willard patents his banjo clock, America
  • 1806 – Terry introduces Pillar and Scroll clock, America
  • 1809 – Martin Cheney leaves America to set up a clock-making shop in Montreal, Canada
  • 1810 – Carriage clock (Pendule De Voyage) introduced by Breguet of France
  • 1818 – Heman Clark makes wrought brass movement for Pillar and Scroll case, America
  • 1825 – Rolled brass production begins in America
  • 1837 – Noble Jerome 30-hour brass movement patent approved, America
  • 1840 – American brass movements in mass production
  • 1842 – American brass movement clocks exported to England by Chauncey Jerome
  • 1845 – Wood-works movement production ends, America
  • 1850 – Westminster tower clock designed by Lord Grimthorpe and made by Dent, England
  • CA. 1850 – Brocot (pin-wheel) escapement and pendulum suspension introduced, France
  • CA. 1850 – American mass production of watches begins
  • 1860 – Junghans (Germany) sent to America to study American mass production techniques
  • 1870 – Decline in English long-case clocks
  • 1874 – Mass production of mantel and wall clocks begin in Whitby, Canada,
  • 1900 – American clock production is at its height; makers are Ansonia, Ingraham, Gilbert, Howard, New Haven, Seth Thomas, Waterbury, and Welch
  • 1904 – Arthur Pequegnat begins clock production in Berlin, Canada
  • 1906 – Eureka electric clock introduced, America
  • CA. 1910 – Torsion pendulum clock (400-day) introduced, Germany
  • 1920-40 – Decline in American mechanical clock production
  • 1941 – Arthur Pequegnat ceases production, Canada
  • CA. 1960-70 – End of mass produced mechanical clocks, America (though cheaper Japanese, Korean & Chinese mechanical clocks flood North America)
  • Present day – Some movement and clockmakers remain; Howard Miller (Ridgeway), Keininger, Hermle, Chelsea, Jaeger LaCoultre among others

The clock is one of mans greatest achievements. The development of instruments to tell time is the unwavering toil of brilliant minds from many disciplines who, over 800 years, worked tirelessly to create, innovate and improve methods for telling the time.

Horology is not only the study of time but the synergy of art, joinery, fashion, design, décor, physics, engineering, metallurgy and mathematics. Indeed, the study of the mechanical clock is a microcosm of our society.

Time rules life – like it or not.