History: The Cat and the Pendulum

September 13th, 2011 | No Comments

Kit-Cat Klock

Do you remember that creepy black cat clock with eyes that move side to side? It also has a pendulum tail that swings back in forth in unison with the eye movement. This clock was a staple between the 1930’s and 50’s in kitchens across the states. It uses one of the most groundbreaking inventions in time-keeping: the pendulum.

Pendulum clocks use a hanging pendulum as the means to keep time.  The pendulum is basically a swinging weight that swings back and forth (oscillates) at a precise time interval based on its length and weight.  A set of power gears uses energy from the oscillating pendulum to drive the clock mechanism.  And a set of timekeeping gears move the hands around the clock face. The clock needs to be wound periodically to restore potential energy in the swinging pendulum.

It’s said that Galileo should be more credited with the invention of the pendulum, however he died before ever building a model of one. In 1656, a Dutch scientist by the name of Christian Huygens invented the very first pendulum clock. At first, his invention had an error of less than one minute a day, which was the most accurate any time-keeping device had been to that day. Later on he refined it so that its errors were reduced to less than seconds a day!

Soon after the original pendulum clocks, the grandfather clock made its first appearance in England. The original grandfather clocks had either 8 day or 30 hour movements, after which they would need to be wound. Pendulum clocks were originally very popular in France and Germany.  However, as they became known for their accuracy, their use became widespread. In fact, they remained the world standard for time-keeping until the late 1920′s, when the quartz clock debuted.

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