Famous Clock Makers

Horology, the art and science of making clocks, has been around for over 5,000 years, dating back to the celestial clocks of North Africa and the Middle East. Christian Huygens of Holland, building on the principles of Galileo's pendulum clock, built the first accurate mechanical clock in 1582. However, it was British clockmakers who dominated the art of horology from the 17th to 19th centuries.


Modern clockmaking was founded in England with the recoil and anchor advancement on the pendulum clock by William Clement of London in 1671. One of the most famous clockmakers of all time is the 18th century British clockmaker, John Harrison. By 1727, he had designed two of the most accurate clocks of his day.


Franz Ketterer, Winterhalder and Hoffmeier, the Gustav Becker Clock Company and the Hamburg American Clock Company (HAC) were among the most famous German clockmakers from 1850 to 1935. Ketterer, from the Black Forest region of Germany, a famous clockmaking district and the birthplace of the cuckoo clock in the 17th century, is considered a founding father in clockmaking. Gustav Becker was awarded his first Medaille d'Or for design at the Silesia Trade Exposition in 1852, and incorporated his initials with the emblem of the award in his trademark. HAC, with its well-recognised crossed-arrows trademark, was in business from 1882 to 1926, and merged with the renowned Junghans Clock Factory in 1930. Winterhalder and Hoffmeier, in business from 1810 to 1910, were famous particularly for their grandfather clocks and their chimes.


Balthazar Martinot (1636--1714) was one of the most famous clockmakers of his day, known not only for the exceptional quality of his clocks but also for the fine clock housings made by Jean-Michel Ziegler and André-Charles Boulle. Among his famous patrons were Louis XIV, the Prince of Rohan and the King of Siam in 1685. Today, his clocks can be found in world-renowned museums, such as the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.


Prominent American clockmakers at the turn of the 19th century were Philadelphians Samuel Bispam, Abel Cottey, Peter Stretch and, arguably the most famous, David Rittenhouse. Benjamin and Ephram Williard of Massachusetts became famous for their "long-case clocks," or grandfather clocks, also known as "wags-on-the-wall." Eli Terry of Connecticut engineered a breakthrough in clockmaking with his invention of factory-line production in 1810. The Chelsea Clock Company became famous around the turn of the century for their high-quality marine clocks. In 1840, Chauncey Jerome's Jerome Clock Company became famous as the largest clock factory in America. Giants in the industry at the turn of the 20th century were Ansonia Clock Company and the Waterbury Clock Company; the former sold-out to the Russian government after the crash of 1929. Today, only three of the original clockmaking giants exist, however they are all divisions of large corporations: the Seth Thomas Clock Company (Talley Industries), Ingraham Clock Company (McGraw-Edison) and the Gilbert Clock Company (Sparta Corporation).

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About the Author

Lisa Dorward was a corporate financial executive and business consultant for more than 15 years before becoming a writer in 2003. She has B.A. degrees in both history and creative writing and earned her M.F.A. in creative writing in 2008, specializing in novel-length historical fiction.