Horologues or glockes ­ clocks keep us on time

Horologues or glockes � clocks keep us on time By Bob Karolevitz Clocks aren't what they used to be.

Most of them are electric now. They're plugged in, and they keep running unless the power goes off.

Nobody seems to want to wind them anymore. It's another one of those little inconviences we've done away with in the name of progress.

There are those of us who are old enough remember being lulled to sleep by the tick-tock of an alarm clock. Somehow or other we slept through the hourly chiming of the fancy timepiece on the mantle or the regular chirping of the cuckoo on the wall.

Now the slightest buzzing of the electric model by her bed is enough to keep Phyllis awake. (She says she can hear a leaf drop. I can too, if it's a table leaf.) I thought about getting her a noiseless sun dial, but apparently they don't work in the bedroom.

An hour glass wouldn't work either because she probably could hear the falling grains of sand. Besides that, she'd have to turn it over periodically, and that would be very disruptive of her shut-eye.

Anyway, this got me to thinking about clocks in general, but when I started researching the subject, I soon discovered that the material was book-length in scope.

First of all, the word clock comes from the German glocke or the French cloche, both of which meant the bell that struck the passage of time. Before that a clock was called a horologue � and I'll bet you didn't know that.

The first horologues were the so-called water clocks which the Chinese and Egyptians used to tell time centuries ago. Greeks, Romans and Arabs also have various forms of these drip models which later showed up in medieval Europe.

No one � not even the Internet � knows for sure when the forerunners of today's mechanical clocks were made, but the earliest ones were the large public clocks in cathedral towers and castle turrets in the 11th and 12th centuries. They chimed the hour and got people interested in smaller time-keepers called domestic or household clocks.

Weight-driven types were succeeded by spring-operated ones. In 1581 a young Italian lad named Galileo "discovered" the principle of the pendulum which was later applied to the workings of long-case or grandfather clocks by Dutch astronomer Christian Huygens and others.

Actually, grandfather clocks were a little unwieldy to carry around, so watches were invented � this of course, being a little levity to brighten up what is getting to be a rather dull column.

Clockmaking came to America with the earliest English colonists. There were clockmakers' guilds as craftsmen produced banjo clocks, shelf clocks, wall clocks, beehive clocks, lyre clocks and something called a girandole. The cases or housing became more important than the mechanisms themselves.

Clockmaking apprenticeships were common. Carpenters and furniture-makers got in the act. Men like Seth Thomas, David Rittenhouse, Eli Terry, Chauncey Jerome and the four Willard brothers � Simon, Aaron, Ephraim and Benjamin � became famous for their unique timepieces.

Finally the mass production of wind-up clocks replaced most of the hand-made models. Millions of Americans have since arisen sleepy-eyed to alarms set off by different kinds of cacaphanous chronometers, like the electric one that starts Phyllis's day.

Me? I'm more of the sun dial or hour glass type myself. I hate the sound of that sleep-shattering b-r-r-r-i-n-g in the early morning. Come to think of it, I wonder if I can get one of those Egyptian water clocks somewhere?

© 2000 Robert F. Karolevitz

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