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Texas ISD School Guide
Texas ISD School Guide

Short Stories for Teachers

Grandfather Clocks: A History
By:Susan Fielding

Grandfather clocks have not been around forever. Humans have attempted to find the most reliable way to keep track of time since the beginning of civilization. When they first attempted to track time, it was done so through the tracking of the phases of the moon in the nighttime sky. In the earliest days, the seasons, months and years were tracked by carefully monitoring the phases of the moon. As the years passed by, it was the sun and stars that became the known way for civilizations to keep track of time.

The Sumerian civilization began to use the device known as the sundial to break out days into even two-hour blocks. The Egyptian civilization used a device that did the same thing, which became Cleopatra’s Needle. The Ancient Romans were the first to divide the day into day and night increments.

An increasing desire for more precise measurements stemmed the invention of the water clock, and then later on came the hourglass. These two time tracking inventions were limited, as they depended upon water and sand to function properly. Still, people wanted ways to track time that did not depend upon seasonal forces.

The first form of grandfather clocks surfaced in 1582. Although not called that when discovered, Galileo found that a pendulum could be used to track time. Once that was figured out, the designs for a grandfather clock, though he did not build it, were first put into motion. Then, years later in 1656, Christiaan Huygens constructed the first known grandfather clock, putting Galileo’s discovery to use and brought his plans to fruition. Although a significant breakthrough, the clock was not able to keep accurate time. This does not deter from the fact that it was a major breakthrough in the technological world of timekeeping. As the years passed, many inventors put their own touches on this clock to maintain accurate time, but all failed.

Then in 1670, as with most logical reasoning, an edit was made to the clock design. A longer pendulum was put in the clock. Time was kept with pinpoint accuracy from that time on. But it was not until a song from Henry Work in 1875, did we get the name grandfather clock. The name was from one of his songs, and the name has stuck.

The grandfather clocks of today rely on the same form of pendulum swing and the design is the exact same as it was over 100 years ago. It is a piece of technology that time has not yet altered.

Susan Fielding

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