Grandfather Clock History: The Story of Grandfather Clocks

A grandfather clock is a beautiful and dignified piece of furniture. Aside from looking majestic, however, they are functioning clocks that can tell the time extremely accurately.

When you look at them, it’s natural to wonder where they came from. How did someone come up with the idea of such a sumptuous clock? Why were they invented to begin with?

The story behind grandfather clocks is quite interesting. In this post, we’ll unfold grandfather clock history for you, so you can learn more about the far-reaching roots of these iconic clocks.

Fathers of the Grandfather Clock

The grandfather clock didn’t emerge from nothing. It had predecessors that you can attribute its design to.

Technically, you can trace the beginnings of the grandfather clock all the way back to the legendary scientist Galileo Galilei. After observing a pendulum in a church, he had the idea of using a pendulum to help keep time. Frankly, he did not achieve his goals with the pendulum as a timepiece, but others built upon his foundation.

An astronomer by the name of Christian Huygens continued Galileo’s work. In 1656, he succeeded where Galileo had failed, attaching a working pendulum to a clock. The reason this is important is that it enhanced the timekeeping accuracy of clocks.

Even more importantly (at least, in terms of making grandfather clocks), it allowed for the creation of what you could consider the father of a grandfather clock: the “wag on the wall clock.” These were wall-mounted clocks with long pendulums popularized by English clock makers.

The Invention of the Grandfather Clock

You can probably see where the development of wag on the wall clocks was going. Not long after their invention, a clock maker by the name of William Clement took the design a step further, creating a pendulum clock with a long wooden case that stood on the floor. 

This was in 1680. At that time, these clocks weren’t actually called “grandfather clocks” – they were, in fact, fittingly called “longcase clocks.”

For the most part, longcase clocks were reserved for the wealthy or royalty. For over 100 years after its invention, the standard cost of a single grandfather clock stayed at around a year’s rent for the average person. It’s easy to see why no one could afford them – could you imagine paying a year’s rent or mortgage payments for a single clock?

Fortunately, the rise of wages around the beginning of the nineteenth century made it so more people were able to afford to add them to their home.

Where the Name Grandfather Came From

Now you know who invented grandfather clocks and when they were invented. But you also know that, at the time of their invention, they were called longcase clocks. This leaves another question: how did they come to be called grandfather clocks?

That’s an interesting story. As it turns out, the name actually comes from a song written by a man named Henry Clay Work. He encountered a grandfather clock in the lobby of a hotel he was staying at in 1875 and was so entranced by it that he decided to write the song, “My Grandfather’s Clock.” 

That was that. Grandfather father clocks widely became known as such after the popularity of Henry’s song. If you’d like to hear someone performing it, you can click on the video above.

Wrap Up

It’s always interesting to learn about how the things in our home came to be. Everything has a story, no matter how inconsequential it may seem. Grandfather clocks, much like their intriguing appearances, also have a story of their own, and it just so happens it is a long, rich tale.

Would you like to add a grandfather clock with history to your home? Take a look at our list of the best antique grandfather clocks for sale.

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