Thursday, July 20, 2017


Early Clocks
The first clock in Pennsylvania might have been a lantern clock made to sit on a shelf. The lantern clock had a brass box and a bell on top for striking the hours. The clock had the height of about fifteen inches and a spring-driven single hand. The face had only hours and half-hour marks.
The next kind of clock Read More
included a pendulum. The inside of the clock had two rotating drums tied to the pendulum to operate the hands. The clock’s face included quarter marks in addition to the hour and half-hour marks. Most of these clocks also only had one hand.
After that, clocks began to run from an arrangement of gears with large wheels driving smaller wheels called pinions. Artisans of the pre-factory period made watches as well as clocks. Like an apothecary, a clockmaker or a watchmaker had a bit of prestige. Famous people like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin owned watches.

Tall Clocks
People first called the eight-foot-high grandfather clock, a coffin clock. A grandmother clock stood only five feet high. Sometimes they had a calendar date in a small opening near the center of the dial and showed the phases of the moon in the arch over the dial. These moved on a mostly hidden disk. Rich families showed their wealth by owning a tall-case clock costing a few hundred dollars. They passed them down to their descendants by mentioning the clocks in their wills.

Philadelphia and Lancaster Clockmakers
In the 1600s and 1700s, Pennsylvania, especially Philadelphia and Lancaster, had a good reputation for watches and fine tall-case clocks. Philadelphia’s most famous tall-case clockmaker, David Rittenhouse, lived in the later 1700s. Remember reading about William Rittenhouse, the papermaker, in an earlier blog? David was his great-grandson. Self-educated, David Rittenhouse made his first wooden clock at age 17. At age 19, he began to make clocks for others. He made about 100 clocks during his lifetime.
He made one of his clocks nine feet tall. People called it a great-grandfather clock. Its chimes covered two octaves and had four tunes. In addition to showing the moon phases it also exhibited the position of the planets. Other heavenly information showed on four dials around the main one. Drexel Institute in Philadelphia currently owns this one. Click here to see the clock.
Of the Lancaster clockmakers, Martin Shreiner should be noted. He worked from 1790 to 1830 and made 317 clocks, all numbered. General Robert E. Lee owned one of his clocks, number 226. In January, 2015, one of Shreiner’s five musical clocks, number 250, sold for $204,000.  

 Baker, Tony. “Part 6: Early American Clock Making.” Tick Tock Web 20 July 2017 <>
Brubaker, Jack. “The Scribbler: Shreiner tall-case clock sells for record $204,000” Lancaster, Jan 23, 2015.>
“David Rittenhouse (1732-1796).”  University of Pennsylvania University Archives and Records Center, 1995-2013 david.html                     
“Shreiner, Martin Sr.”
“The Story Of Clocks And Watches - Part 1.” 1963. <>
 Tunis, Edwin. Colonial Craftsmen. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. Print.

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