German Cuckoo Clocks - A Walk Through History

Mar 21


Dean Forster

Dean Forster

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A history timeline of the cuckoo clock industry in Germany


Whenever one looks at a cuckoo clock one would almost always reach the conclusion that it was made in Germany. And if one guessed that he would be quite right. The industry is mainly based in Germany as well as parts of Switzerland. So much so that the art of clock making can be dated back to 1650 when a nobleman called Philipp Hainhofer penned down the first known cuckoo clock design. A few decades later,German Cuckoo Clocks - A Walk Through History Articles they sprang up all over the Black Forest region of Germany. And thus starts the historic journey of German cuckoo clocks.

Throughout Germany there are 2 contrasting histories that relate to the first cuckoo clock being made. The first story, written by Father Franz Steyrer, describes that two clock merchants from the Black Forest region met a Bohemian clock peddler who sold to them a cuckoo clock. These two brothers, in turn, took the clock apart and imitated it, thus initiating the business. The other story written by Markus Fidelis Jäck says that a clock master named Franz Anton Ketterer made a clock drawing inspiration from the way the bellows of the church organ produced sound.

Although the second history is often contested by many because the first cuckoo clock has been dated to 1730 and the birth year of Franz Ketterer was 1734, it doesn't stop people from considering Ketterer as the father and inventor of these clocks. The first were of the 'Schilduhr' or the Shield-clocks design. These clocks had a square painted wooden face behind which was the clockwork. On the wooden face was a small semicircular opening from which the cuckoo made its entry.

In 1850, the director of the Clockmakers School, Robert Gerwig, started a nation wide competition for designers to submit their new and innovative designs. Friedrich Eisenlohr, an architect submitted a design called "Wallclock with shield decorated by ivy vines", which was the clear winner then and has since been adapted to design cuckoo clocks ever since then. Inspired by nature and other such things Eisenlohr created designs rather than modifying them. This seemed to please the noblemen and the clergy who seemed to prefer such designs and considered them as a sign of grandeur and magnificence.

Within a matter of years though, in 1860 to be precise, the Bahnhäusle clock came into being which brought in the "Jagdstück" design, which used 3-D carvings and wooden animal designs mounted on the top. Ironically, these didn't have the cuckoo mechanism and were plain watches.

Later on, the Swiss moved into this industry and contributed to the growth with their Chalet design which were even more detailed than the Bahnhäusle design and contained much more intricate wooden carvings like woodcutters, forests, animals and beer drinkers.

Throughout history, cuckoo clocks have been modified and re-modified by designers but the original design of the German cuckoo clock has lived on and is still the most used design.