History of the Cuckoo Clock Part 2

Apr 24


Les Fehr

Les Fehr

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The cuckoo clock has come a long way from its earliest production to what it is today. The designs have changed over many generations. The cuckoo clock has lasted through plagues and famines and two world wars.

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Towards the end of the 1700’s the people around the black Forest region were building cuckoo clocks during the long winter months. These farmer clock makers were improving the designs of the clocks they were building. They were improving the inner workings of the clock and designing new styles and techniques for wood carving.


This traditional style of clock was called a shield clock or “Schilduhur” having a painted flat square wooden face. Behind the face is where the clockworks were attached. Above the square wooden face was a semicircle of painted wood which had a door for the cuckoo. These clockmakers carved and painted this semicircle with the cuckoo in it. The paintings that were painted on the clock were called “Rosenuhren” and the clock also had painted columns on each side of the semicircle.


Over time these clockmakers changed the wooden gears to metal clockworks which improved the accuracy of the cuckoo clock. There craftsmanship in wood carving and painting improved. In the spring time these clockmakers would take their clocks that they made over the winter to town to display and sell them.


By 1808 there were 688 clockmakers and 582 clock peddlers around the towns of Triberg and Neustadt in the Black Forest region of Germany. Historians say there were around 9013 inhabitants and 790 of these inhabitants were involved in clock making.


By 1850 in Furtwangen Germany in the Black Forest region a school was started for clock making. The Duke of Baden donated some land and a building and called the school the Grand Duchy of Baden Clockmakers School. The students learned math,History of the Cuckoo Clock Part 2 Articles clock drawing, as well as making cases and building clock works.


After the school was started they launched a competition where anyone could submit designs for clock cases. An architect Friedrich Eisenlohr submitted a design of a clock looking like a railroad station house. It had a pointed roof with a square shape. The front of the clock was decorated with hand carved scenes of flowers and leaves and birds. Some of these clocks had wildlife scenes with deer and rabbits and quail. At the top of the railroad station house was a trap door where the cuckoo bird came out.


During the early 1850’s two different styles of cuckoo clocks were being made. One was the framed clock or “Rosenuhren”. It was a picture frame with a painted Black Forest scene on the wooden background. The cuckoo bird was installed in the upper section of the decorated surface of the clock. This style of clock was not produced very long.


The other style was the railroad station clock or “Bahnhausle” which was designed to look like a railroad house that was built along the railroad lines in Germany.  This design of clock became the most popular style for the clock makers.


In 1854 Johann Baptist Beha a well known clock maker sold 2 clocks to a clock dealer with oil paintings on the front of the clock and with the cuckoo mechanisms. He called these railroad station clocks “Bahnhofle Uhren”. Another well known clock maker Theodor Ketterer sold the same style to someone from Glasgow Scotland. All the clock makers by this time were designing and building their cuckoo clocks to look like the railroad station house with the cuckoo mechanisms. By the end of the 1850’s there was a boom in the Black Forest region building cuckoo clocks.


By 1860 the railroad station clock began to develop a different style of design. The clockmakers started to do three dimensional wood carvings on the fronts of their cuckoo clocks. In Furtwangen in 1861 they started carving hunt designs. They carved animals and guns and powder bags and oak leaves on the fronts. They called this style of clock “Jagstuk”.


In 1862 the clock makers started making the clock hands out of bone instead of wood. The weights were designed to look like pine cones. Some of the clock makers designed different weights rather than the pine cones.


Over the next 150 years the railroad station cuckoo clock or “Bahnhausle” was the preferred style of the Black Forest clock. With its high peaked roof and three dimensional carved front the trap door for the cuckoo to come out and the pine cone weights.


Around the towns of Schonach and Titisee-Neustadt in the Black Forest region of Germany there are several dozen clock making companies that produce the railroad station cuckoo clock and sell them throughout the world. When you think of a cuckoo clock you see the “Bahnhausle” style clock with its beautiful designs and sounds. You see the animated figurines and hear different music tunes but best of all you hear the call of the cuckoo bird.