American Clocks and Timekeeping

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In the agriculture-based colonial economy, accuracy in the measurement of time proved of little relative importance. The few privately owned clocks, generally brought from Europe, were rarities celebrated as scientific curiosities, treasured for their beauty, and displayed as symbols of prosperity. Clocks for the general public, very large types set in steeples, towers, and public buildings, existed only in the most prosperous and established settlements. Most early Americans judged time in the age-old manner of looking up at the sky and observing the position of the sun or the moon. Several different types of mechanical timekeepers could be found in colonial America, including lantern, bracket, tall, and tower clocks. At the time, the definition of a clock was a device that strikes, at minimum, on an hourly basis, while a timepiece merely measured the passage of time and did not strike. European settlers brought the first clocks. These early clocks were probably lanterns, small clocks with a wheel balance that enjoyed great popularity in England and predated the bracket and tall clocks. Bracket clocks, first developed in 1657, were small spring-driven clocks with pendulums. Tall clocks appeared only after 1659 and, like bracket clocks, were made possible by the commercial application of the pendulum, a much more accurate way of regulating a clock by means of a swinging weight. Five to nine feet in height and standing unsupported on the floor, tall clocks are also known as longcase or grandfather clocks. Very little is known about tower clocks in America, other than that they constituted a proud achievement for a town that had previously relied either on bells or on a cannon to mark time. The earliest one, probably built to alert townspeople to the start of church services, may be a Massachusetts clock that was in existence in 1650. In the mid-seventeenth century, tower clocks began to employ pendulums and, if kept in good condition, lost only a few seconds a day instead of the minutes lost in the days before pendulums. The tall clock also called the longcase or grandfather clock was 5 to 9 feet high and stood unsupported on the floor. It was made possible by the commercial application of the pendulum in the late 1650s. (Sturbridge Museum, Stur-bridge, Massachusetts/Bridgeman Art Library) American clock makers in the colonial period made clocks in the English style but with slight twists to accommodate American conditions. Tall clocks were English inventions that never became very popular on the Continent but were apparently the only type of clocks made for private use by early American craftsmen. Much of their popularity derives from the fact that they could be made with an absolute minimum of metal parts, since metal was scarce in the colonies. Glass, also hard to obtain, rarely covered a dial. The dial, about 10.5 inches in diameter, consisted of metal, often a strip covering easy-toacquire wood. Typically, two hands would mark hours and minutes, although some English and Dutch clock makers in 1660 developed a style with only one hand that moved along a dial divided into forty-eight segments for the quarter hours. The movement, or mechanism of the clock, came in four types: thirty-hour brass, eight-day brass with two weights, thirty-hour wood, and eight-day wood. Wooden movements, generally made of oak, had metal escape wheels to regulate the release of power. Brass movements, cast using sand molds, were made from an alloy of copper, zinc, and occasionally tin in proportions unique to each clock maker. The cases of American clocks were constructed from native woods such as cherry. In overall design, these clocks owed much to their English cousins and were often indistinguishable from them. Both English and American models were plain with flat-topped hoods. The clock making industry in America developed very slowly, in part because of the absence of a strong demand for clocks but also because a clock took many months to complete. Clock makers typically worked in other craft jobs, such as blacksmithing or gunsmithing, and only made clocks on occasion at the request of a customer. Abel Cottey is the earliest known American clock maker. An immigrant from Devon, England, he set up a business in Philadelphia in 1682 and made tall clocks. Perhaps because of Cottey’s influence, Philadelphia became the clock making center of the English colonies, although other areas also had established clock makers. By the start of the eighteenth century, tall clocks were being made in numbers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, First Time Manufactory American Timekeeping Co Numeral Plaques … travelquaz


American Clocks and Timekeeping

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American Clocks and Timekeeping

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American Clocks and Timekeeping

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