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History of the German Cuckoo Clock

The history of the German cuckoo clock began in the Southern part of Germany. Before 1630, time was measured very imprecisely with sundials or hourglasses. When a glass merchant from Czechoslovakia returned with a so-called wooden beam clock, it changed the world of timekeeping. This clock had simple wooden gears and stones as weights, with no pendulum. Nevertheless, it was a significant advancement over the hourglass and sundial.

The rather poor rural people living in the Black Forest area were familiar with handicrafts and skilled woodworkers. They started to make clocks with wooden gears in their cottages as a welcome source of extra income during the long winter months. In the spring, a peddler would take them to various parts of the world to sell them. This is how the Black Forest Clock, an improved version of the aforementioned wood-beam clock, became popular in many countries around the world.

These early Black Forest clocks were not yet cuckoo clocks, but they were constantly improved and made more precise. The turner Friedrich Dilger, from a small village in southwest Germany, traveled to Paris as a wandering clock dealer and stayed there for a year to further his education in the already sophisticated art of clockmaking. Upon his return, he brought the new techniques back to Germany, made special tools, and contributed to further technical advancements of the Black Forest clocks. He was also very inventive in developing clocks with moving elements or musical mechanisms.

The inspiration for the first cuckoo clock may also have come via trade routes from France. In the cathedral of Strasbourg, a crowing rooster announced the number of hours. It is said that The very first German cuckoo clock was made in the village of Schonwald by the similarly inventive clockmaker Franz Anton Ketterer. While there were already special art clocks with elaborate moving elements like dancers or a skeleton that rotated around an hourglass hourly, Ketterer's clock was the first true German cuckoo clock. The ingenious mechanism for the cuckoo call remains the same today as it was then: the sound is produced by two bellows periodically activated by the clockwork, sending air through small organ pipes.

The Black Forest Clock was intricate in design. Some villages or areas would specialize, with some making the gears, someone else making the case, and the intricate woodcarvings done by trained woodcarvers. These authentic cuckoo clocks were then assembled and sold. Over the years, typical themes and motifs of cuckoo clocks developed, such as the hunter theme. The clocks were elaborately decorated with hand-carved hunting scenes, antlers, stag heads, and powder horns.

Another well-known style was the Bahnhäusle, adorned with wild vines. The Bahnhäusle clocks were carved to resemble the lookout houses the Italian tunnel builders had erected during the construction of the railway line. What we now know as the traditional carved Black Forest clock originates from this design.

Today, you can find an authentic cuckoo clock in reputable stores or online. Genuine cuckoo clocks are manufactured by companies like Hekas and Rombach & Haas. Another renowned clockmaker is Anton Schneider, who produces over 300 different models of authentic cuckoo clocks.

Today's German cuckoo clock is still made with the same weight-driven mechanism as before, but there are now also battery-operated quartz clocks. In this case, the cuckoo is also produced by a digitized recording. Whichever Black Forest clock you choose, whether you prefer a mechanical or battery-powered cuckoo clock - you may appreciate it a little more knowing something about its long tradition and history.

History of the German Cuckoo Clock