If you ask most of the people, who own a Cuckoo
Clock hanging in one of their rooms about its history, chances are
high that you will get “I don’t know” or maybe
a few statements where they bought it. To help you out here, we
sum up a short summary for you about the history and the tradition
of this well-known clock.
The first so called “Black Forest Cuckoo Clock” was
created over 280 years ago - around 1630 - in the village of Triberg,
the Black Forest Region in Germany. Even if some sources say something
different but most times Mr Franz Kettler was the person, who is
brought directly into connection with the birth of the clock. But
the story of the clock reaches even more back than this. It must
have happened around 1630 that a peddler who sold glass from the
Black Forest to foreign countries, returned with a clock, perhaps
from the land of Böhmen (today's Czech Republic). So the technique
and the idea was born somewhere different – but the Cuckoo
Clock as we know it today comes form the Black Forest.
Somebody in the Black Forest, maybe Mr. Kettler, must have been
fascinated by this idea, that kept time much better than the hourglass,
that were used at that time. So, this person built his own clock,
and started the tradition of clock making.
It did not take long for the Cuckoo Clock to gain incredible popularity
within certain parts of Germany – even some major cities nearby.
During those long winter months, the farms were snowed-in and the
people had time to create finely hand-crafted cuckoo clocks of many
styles with rich and varied carvings. The citizens even compete
against each other for the best clock. People there had always crafted
and carved using the local wood that was one of the few natural
resources in the area. Each of them would try to create a more unique
and detailed cuckoo clock than their neighbor’s clock.
With cleverness and dexterity, the clock makers were making cuckoo
clocks with richly hand-carved decorations from various woods. In
1808 there were already 688 clockmakers and 582 clock peddlars in
the districts of Triberg and Neustadt. It is known for example that
in 1808 in Triberg, and the surrounding villages, 790 of 9013 inhabitants
were involved in the clock-making. When Spring came around again;
they would take their cuckoo clocks to town and display them.
That is the season when they would show off their hard work and
sell their cuckoos to admirers.
In 1850 the Herzog (Duke) of Baden founded a School for clock-making
in Furtwangen, where students learned math and drawing as well as
making cases and movements for the clocks.
Thus the first clocks were rather primitive, the cuckoo clock was
at that time really a piece of art – detailed crafted and
featured by a hand carved cuckoo bird which was animated by various
weights and pendulums. They used toothed wheels made of wood and
simple stones as weights. Instead of a pendulum, they used a piece
of wood called a "Waag" that moved forward and back above
the clock dial, to make the clock keep time.
The so-called "Häuslers" where the people who made
clocks at that time. They were not rich farmers, but clock making
was a welcome way for them to earn a little money. In the Black
Forest area, usually the oldest son of a farmer inherited the farm
– the younger ones only got a small piece of land. So they
were forced to look out for new ways to earn their living. Around
1690 a whole industry of clock making had developed in the high
When time went by people in the Black Forest continued to improve
their techniques to produce clocks. Clock-peddlers travelling to
different regions heard about new technologies which were developed
in other regions. In the 17th century Friedrich Dilger from the
small village of Urach went to France and brought back new ideas
and tools in building clocks.
So people in the Black Forest began to specialize in certain aspects
of clock making like carvers - making the cases -, painters and
manufacturers of chains and toothed wheels. Others concentrated
on new details like moving figures. In 1738 Franz Ketterer from
the village of Schönwald was the first to build a cuckoo for
his clocks. So the famous bird with the original sound “cuckoo
cuckoo” was born.
At the same time there were large artist's clocks with a calling
rooster in towns like Prague, Heilbronn, Berne and Strasbourg. Maybe
they were the inspiration for Ketterer to build his cuckoo clock.
Making a clock call like a cuckoo was easier than making it call
like a rooster, but still it must have been quite difficult to develop
this. The call of the cuckoo was made the same way it is today:
two bellows send air through pipes. A similar technology was already
in use for church-organs at this time.
The most valuable Black Forest clock is the "world-time-clock",
which was built in 1787. It is located today in the German clock
museum in Furtwangen.
One last thing that is important to be mentioned in this context
is the origin of the "Bahnhäusle" clocks. When building
the Railroad through the rocky Black Forest area around 1860, it
was necessary to build many tunnels. For this, skilled tunnel-builders
from Italy were hired, and they brought their way of life as well
as their architecture with them. Alongside the railroad, lookout
buildings were made, the so-called "Bahnwärterhäusles"
which show the foreign influence. Adorned with wild grape vines,
they were the inspiration for this special type of cuckoo clocks.
This ancient craft continued to develop, becoming soon a flourishing
industry. The poorly lit spaces where the clock carvers worked have
become light and well-equipped workshops where clock movements and
cases are manufactured by modern methods. But the woodcarvings are
still handmade by skilled masters as they were 200 years ago. Old
clocks and original drawings of the first clocks are still used
and modified as patterns for new models, but the cuckoo clock in
its basic form is 200 years old. The cuckoo clock is a clock of
the past, present and the future, still much loved by children and