The schoolhouse clock – how it got its name

Older readers growing up in the rural areas of Canada and American have fond memories of the one-room schoolhouse clock located in the front or rear of the classroom. Just how did the schoolhouse clock get its name?

As the teacher instructed the students to work quietly on their own students would look up furtively at the clock anticipating the next recess. Students learned about time, how it regimented the day, how it seemed to move slowly and yet so quickly. Can you imagine the privileged child selected to wind the clock once per week.

Killarney, Ireland pub. The drop fusee wall clock is to the right

With a swinging pendulum visible from a distance, the clock can easily be seen running. The open-door bottom access sash allowed for restarting and adjusting the rate. The vast majority were American clocks though Canada produced its fair share of schoolhouse clocks. Time-only movements were very popular because they had fewer moving parts, noiseless except for the ticking sound, were simpler to maintain and would run well for years even if very worn.

The schoolhouse clock came to be known as a particular style of clock found in school settings. If a particular style was ordered by a school authority manufacturers might have informally described them as clocks for schools or “school clocks”. In any event, the term, “schoolhouse clock” has become part of the lexicon of the clock collector.

Today, the distinctive schoolhouse clock is known as a drop octagon by clock collectors.

Most schoolhouse clocks are 8-day running, constructed of oak, have a brass dial bezel, bottom glazed access sash, 9 or 12-inch dial with the majority being time-only. A time-only clock provides less distraction in the classroom environment than those clocks making a striking sound.

None of the labels on my clocks have the word “schoolhouse” written on them. They are either described as a “drop octagon” or have a specific model name

In some clock circles it is said that schoolhouse clocks are a derivative of the English drop dial fusee clock such as the one seen in an Irish pub in Killarney (above photo).

None of the labels on my clocks have the word “schoolhouse” written on them. They are either described as a “drop octagon” or have a specific model name.

Here are a few schoolhouse clocks from my collection. Enjoy!

Sessions Drop Octagon
Sessions Drop Octagon from a school in Springhill, Nova Scotia (Canada)
Gilbert Admiral with 31-day calendar function, Colchester County, Nova Scotia
Ansonia clock project is complete
Ansonia schoolhouse clock, Berwick, Nova Scotia
Jauch wall clock
German-made Jauch wall clock, 1970s era

“Special edition” clocks inspired by the classic schoolhouse wall clock are still sold today though you will find a quartz movement inside

Brandon II by Arthur Pequegnat, Great Village, Nova Scotia
Waterbury short drop wall clock, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Trio of clocks
A trio of clocks representing 3 time zones, From the left, a Waterbury, New Haven and Sessions

“Special edition” clocks inspired by the classic schoolhouse wall clock are still sold today though you will find a quartz movement inside.

The classroom was not only place for the schoolhouse clock. Many found their way into homes across Canada and the US. My grandparents had a Waterbury time and strike schoolhouse clock in their kitchen that I remember well as a young boy (the preview clock for this post).

Schoolhouse clocks evoke fond memories for the older generation today and fortunately many have been preserved for generations to come.


2 thoughts on “The schoolhouse clock – how it got its name

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.