It all started with a desire to mark time. Once the idea of time was conceived, humans designed numerous ways to track time throughout the days, months, and years. Of course, the progress made has been incredible since we first began tracking time. In this blog post, we will focus on the history of the first grandfather clocks.
In 1658 a man named Robert Hooke invented the anchor escapement mechanism which allowed the pendulum of a clock to fit inside of a case. Prior to that, the pendulum would be required to swing 80-100 degrees, this made it impossible to use a long pendulum and instead shorter pendulums were used. Once Robert invented the anchor escapement, clocks could be built with a long pendulum that would swing only a mere 4-6 degrees.
The longer pendulums allowed for a slower “beat”, which brought numerous advantages along with it. The first of these advantages being a decrease in the amount of power used to run the clock, this meant that the time between windings could be much longer. Another advantage was that the mechanism produced a lot less friction and wear in the movement, allowing the clock to last much longer before having to be serviced or repaired. The third and at the time the most important advantage was that this version of the clock was much more accurate.
The long narrow case of grandfather clock was used even before the anchor escapement mechanism was created but instead, the longcase was created to house the long hanging weights. It just so happened that once Robert invented the anchor escapement mechanism the long pendulum fit perfectly inside of the already made longcase clock.
British clockmaker William Clement, who disputed credit for the anchor escapement with Robert Hooke, produced the first longcase clocks around 1680. Within the year Thomas Tompion, the most prominent British Clockmaker was making them too.
Nowadays in the modern era, we use a more accurate variation of the anchor escapement called the deadbeat escapement.