Pendulum clock

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Galileo Pendulum Clock.jpg
Pendulum clock conceived by Galileo Galilei around 1637. The earliest known pendulum clock design, it was never completed.
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Vienna regulator style pendulum wall clock

A pendulum clock is a clock that uses a pendulum, a swinging weight, as its timekeeping element. The advantage of a pendulum for timekeeping is that it is a harmonic oscillator: it swings back and forth in a precise time interval dependent on its length, and resists swinging at other rates. From its invention in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens, inspired by Galileo Galilei, until the 1930s, the pendulum clock was the world's most precise timekeeper, accounting for its widespread use. [1] [2] Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries pendulum clocks in homes, factories, offices and railroad stations served as primary time standards for scheduling daily life, work shifts, and public transportation, and their greater accuracy allowed for the faster pace of life which was necessary for the Industrial Revolution. The home pendulum clock was replaced by cheaper synchronous electric clocks in the 1930s and '40s, and pendulum clocks are now kept mostly for their decorative and antique value.


Pendulum clocks must be stationary to operate; any motion or accelerations will affect the motion of the pendulum, causing inaccuracies, so other mechanisms must be used in portable timepieces.


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Huygens first pendulum clock.png
The first pendulum clock, invented by Christiaan Huygens in 1656

The first pendulum clock was invented in 1656 by Dutch scientist and inventor Christiaan Huygens, and patented the following year. Huygens contracted the construction of his clock designs to clockmaker Salomon Coster, who actually built the clock. Huygens was inspired by investigations of pendulums by Galileo Galilei beginning around 1602. Galileo discovered the key property that makes pendulums useful timekeepers: isochronism, which means that the period of swing of a pendulum is approximately the same for different sized swings. [3] [4] Galileo had the idea for a pendulum clock in 1637, which was partly constructed by his son in 1649, but neither lived to finish it. [5] The introduction of the pendulum, the first harmonic oscillator used in timekeeping, increased the accuracy of clocks enormously, from about 15 minutes per day to 15 seconds per day [6] leading to their rapid spread as existing 'verge and foliot' clocks were retrofitted with pendulums.

A lantern clock that has been converted to use a pendulum. To accommodate the wide pendulum swings caused by the verge escapement, "wings" have been added on the sides Edward East winged lantern clock.jpg
A lantern clock that has been converted to use a pendulum. To accommodate the wide pendulum swings caused by the verge escapement, "wings" have been added on the sides
Grandfather clock Grandfather clock q.jpg
Grandfather clock
Riefler clock NIST.jpg
Shortt Synchronome free pendulum clock.jpg
Some of the most accurate pendulum clocks: (left) Riefler regulator clock, that served as the US time standard from 1909 to 1929, (right) Shortt-Synchronome clock, the most accurate pendulum clock ever manufactured, which served as the time standard during the 1930s.

These early clocks, due to their verge escapements, had wide pendulum swings of 80–100°. In his 1673 analysis of pendulums, Horologium Oscillatorium , Huygens showed that wide swings made the pendulum inaccurate, causing its period, and thus the rate of the clock, to vary with unavoidable variations in the driving force provided by the movement. Clockmakers' realization that only pendulums with small swings of a few degrees are isochronous motivated the invention of the anchor escapement by Robert Hooke around 1658, which reduced the pendulum's swing to 4–6°. [7] The anchor became the standard escapement used in pendulum clocks. In addition to increased accuracy, the anchor's narrow pendulum swing allowed the clock's case to accommodate longer, slower pendulums, which needed less power and caused less wear on the movement. The seconds pendulum (also called the Royal pendulum), 0.994 m (39.1 in) long, in which the time period is two seconds, became widely used in quality clocks. The long narrow clocks built around these pendulums, first made by William Clement around 1680, became known as grandfather clocks. The increased accuracy resulting from these developments caused the minute hand, previously rare, to be added to clock faces beginning around 1690. [8]

The 18th and 19th century wave of horological innovation that followed the invention of the pendulum brought many improvements to pendulum clocks. The deadbeat escapement invented in 1675 by Richard Towneley and popularized by George Graham around 1715 in his precision "regulator" clocks gradually replaced the anchor escapement [9] and is now used in most modern pendulum clocks. Observation that pendulum clocks slowed down in summer brought the realization that thermal expansion and contraction of the pendulum rod with changes in temperature was a source of error. This was solved by the invention of temperature-compensated pendulums; the mercury pendulum by George Graham in 1721 and the gridiron pendulum by John Harrison in 1726. [10] With these improvements, by the mid-18th century precision pendulum clocks achieved accuracies of a few seconds per week.

Until the 19th century, clocks were handmade by individual craftsmen and were very expensive. The rich ornamentation of pendulum clocks of this period indicates their value as status symbols of the wealthy. The clockmakers of each country and region in Europe developed their own distinctive styles. By the 19th century, factory production of clock parts gradually made pendulum clocks affordable by middle-class families.

During the Industrial Revolution, daily life was organized around the home pendulum clock. More accurate pendulum clocks, called regulators, were installed in places of business and railroad stations and used to schedule work and set other clocks. The need for extremely accurate timekeeping in celestial navigation to determine longitude drove the development of the most accurate pendulum clocks, called astronomical regulators. These precision instruments, installed in naval observatories and kept accurate within a second by observation of star transits overhead, were used to set marine chronometers on naval and commercial vessels. Beginning in the 19th century, astronomical regulators in naval observatories served as primary standards for national time distribution services that distributed time signals over telegraph wires. [11] From 1909, US National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) based the US time standard on Riefler pendulum clocks, accurate to about 10 milliseconds per day. In 1929 it switched to the Shortt-Synchronome free pendulum clock before phasing in quartz standards in the 1930s. [12] [13] With an error of around one second per year, the Shortt was the most accurate commercially produced pendulum clock. [14] [15] [16] [17] [18]

Pendulum clocks remained the world standard for accurate timekeeping for 270 years, until the invention of the quartz clock in 1927, and were used as time standards through World War 2. The French Time Service used pendulum clocks as part of their ensemble of standard clocks until 1954. [19] The home pendulum clock began to be replaced as domestic timekeeper during the 1930s and 1940s by the synchronous electric clock, which kept more accurate time because it was synchronized to the oscillation of the electric power grid. The most accurate experimental pendulum clock ever made [20] [21] may be the Littlemore Clock built by Edward T. Hall in the 1990s [22] (donated in 2003 to the National Watch and Clock Museum, Columbia, Pennsylvania, USA).


Ansonia Clock model mechanism: c. 1904. Maquinaria de un Ansonia C-1904.jpg
Ansonia Clock model mechanism: c. 1904.

The mechanism which runs a mechanical clock is called the movement. The movements of all mechanical pendulum clocks have these five parts: [23]

Additional functions in clocks besides basic timekeeping are called complications. More elaborate pendulum clocks may include these complications:

In electromechanical pendulum clocks such as used in mechanical Master clocks the power source is replaced by an electrically powered solenoid that provides the impulses to the pendulum by magnetic force, and the escapement is replaced by a switch or photodetector that senses when the pendulum is in the right position to receive the impulse. These should not be confused with more recent quartz pendulum clocks in which an electronic quartz clock module swings a pendulum. These are not true pendulum clocks because the timekeeping is controlled by a quartz crystal in the module, and the swinging pendulum is merely a decorative simulation.

Gravity-swing pendulum

Schoolhouse regulator style pendulum wall clock Old Pendulum clock.jpg
Schoolhouse regulator style pendulum wall clock

The pendulum swings with a period that varies with the square root of its effective length. For small swings the period T, the time for one complete cycle (two swings), is

where L is the length of the pendulum and g is the local acceleration of gravity. All pendulum clocks have a means of adjusting the rate. This is usually an adjustment nut under the pendulum bob which moves the bob up or down on its rod. Moving the bob up reduces the length of the pendulum, reducing the pendulum's period so the clock gains time. In some pendulum clocks, fine adjustment is done with an auxiliary adjustment, which may be a small weight that is moved up or down the pendulum rod. In some master clocks and tower clocks, adjustment is accomplished by a small tray mounted on the rod where small weights are placed or removed to change the effective length, so the rate can be adjusted without stopping the clock.

The period of a pendulum increases slightly with the width (amplitude) of its swing. The rate of error increases with amplitude, so when limited to small swings of a few degrees the pendulum is nearly isochronous; its period is independent of changes in amplitude. Therefore, the swing of the pendulum in clocks is limited to 2° to 4°.

Temperature compensation

A major source of error in pendulum clocks is thermal expansion; the pendulum rod changes in length slightly with changes in temperature, causing changes in the rate of the clock. An increase in temperature causes the rod to expand, making the pendulum longer, so its period increases and the clock loses time. Many older quality clocks used wooden pendulum rods to reduce this error, as wood expands less than metal.

The first pendulum to correct for this error was the mercury pendulum invented by George Graham in 1721, which was used in precision regulator clocks into the 20th century. These had a bob consisting of a container of the liquid metal mercury. An increase in temperature would cause the pendulum rod to expand, but the mercury in the container would also expand and its level would rise slightly in the container, moving the center of gravity of the pendulum up toward the pivot. By using the correct amount of mercury, the centre of gravity of the pendulum remained at a constant height, and thus its period remained constant, despite changes in temperature.

The most widely used temperature-compensated pendulum was the gridiron pendulum invented by John Harrison around 1726. This consisted of a "grid" of parallel rods of high-thermal-expansion metal such as zinc or brass and low-thermal-expansion metal such as steel. If properly combined, the length change of the high-expansion rods compensated for the length change of the low-expansion rods, again achieving a constant period of the pendulum with temperature changes. This type of pendulum became so associated with quality that decorative "fake" gridirons are often seen on pendulum clocks, that have no actual temperature compensation function.

Beginning around 1900, some of the highest precision scientific clocks had pendulums made of ultra-low-expansion materials such as the nickel steel alloy Invar or fused silica, which required very little compensation for the effects of temperature.

Atmospheric drag

The viscosity of the air through which the pendulum swings will vary with atmospheric pressure, humidity, and temperature. This drag also requires power that could otherwise be applied to extending the time between windings. Traditionally the pendulum bob is made with a narrow streamlined lens shape to reduce air drag, which is where most of the driving power goes in a quality clock. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, pendulums for precision regulator clocks in astronomical observatories were often operated in a chamber that had been pumped to a low pressure to reduce drag and make the pendulum's operation even more accurate by avoiding changes in atmospheric pressure. Fine adjustment of the rate of the clock could be made by slight changes to the internal pressure in the sealed housing.

Leveling and "beat"

To keep time accurately, pendulum clocks must be absolutely level. If they are not, the pendulum swings more to one side than the other, upsetting the symmetrical operation of the escapement. This condition can often be heard audibly in the ticking sound of the clock. The ticks or "beats" should be at precisely equally spaced intervals to give a sound of, "tick...tock...tick...tock"; if they are not, and have the sound "tick-tock...tick-tock..." the clock is out of beat and needs to be leveled. This problem can easily cause the clock to stop working, and is one of the most common reasons for service calls. A spirit level or watch timing machine can achieve a higher accuracy than relying on the sound of the beat; precision regulators often have a built in spirit level for the task. Older freestanding clocks often have feet with adjustable screws to level them, more recent ones have a leveling adjustment in the movement. Some modern pendulum clocks have 'auto-beat' or 'self-regulating beat adjustment' devices, and don't need this adjustment.

Local gravity

Pendulum clock Ansonia. C.1904,SANTIAGO, hanging oak gingerbread clock, eight-day time and strike. Reloj de pendulo Ansonia C-1904.jpg
Pendulum clock Ansonia. C.1904,SANTIAGO, hanging oak gingerbread clock, eight-day time and strike.

Since the pendulum rate will increase with an increase in gravity, and local gravity varies with latitude and elevation on Earth, precision pendulum clocks must be readjusted to keep time after a move. For example, a pendulum clock moved from sea level to 4,000 feet (1,200 m) will lose 16 seconds per day. [24] With the most accurate pendulum clocks, even moving the clock to the top of a tall building would cause it to lose measurable time due to lower gravity. [25]

Torsion pendulum

Also called torsion-spring pendulum, this is a wheel-like mass (most often four spheres on cross spokes) suspended from a vertical strip (ribbon) of spring steel, used as the regulating mechanism in torsion pendulum clocks. Rotation of the mass winds and unwinds the suspension spring, with the energy impulse applied to the top of the spring. With a period of 12—15 seconds, compared to the gravity swing pendulum's period of 0.5—2s, it is possible to make clocks that need to be wound only every 30 days, or even only once a year or more. This type is independent of the local force of gravity but is more affected by temperature changes than an uncompensated gravity-swing pendulum.

A clock requiring only annual winding is sometimes called a "400-Day clock" or "anniversary clock", the latter sometimes given as a wedding memorialisation gift. German firms Schatz and Kieninger & Obergfell (known as "Kundo", from "K und O"), were the main manufacturers of this type of clock. The "perpetual motion" clock, called the Atmos because its mechanism was kept wound by changes in atmospheric temperature, also makes use of a torsion pendulum. In this case the oscillation cycle takes a full 60 seconds.


Animation of an anchor escapement, one of the most common escapements used in pendulum clocks Anchor escapement animation 217x328px.gif
Animation of an anchor escapement, one of the most common escapements used in pendulum clocks

The escapement is a mechanical linkage that converts the force from the clock's wheel train into impulses that keep the pendulum swinging back and forth. It is the part that makes the "ticking" sound in a working pendulum clock. Most escapements consist of a wheel with pointed teeth called the escape wheel which is turned by the clock's wheel train, and surfaces the teeth push against, called pallets. During most of the pendulum's swing the wheel is prevented from turning because a tooth is resting against one of the pallets; this is called the "locked" state. Each swing of the pendulum a pallet releases a tooth of the escape wheel. The wheel rotates forward a fixed amount until a tooth catches on the other pallet. These releases allow the clock's wheel train to advance a fixed amount with each swing, moving the hands forward at a constant rate, controlled by the pendulum.

Although the escapement is necessary, its force disturbs the natural motion of the pendulum, and in precision pendulum clocks this was often the limiting factor on the accuracy of the clock. Different escapements have been used in pendulum clocks over the years to try to solve this problem. In the 18th and 19th century escapement design was at the forefront of timekeeping advances. The anchor escapement (see animation) was the standard escapement used until the 1800s when an improved version, the deadbeat escapement took over in precision clocks. It is used in almost all pendulum clocks today. The remontoire, a small spring mechanism rewound at intervals which serves to isolate the escapement from the varying force of the wheel train, was used in a few precision clocks. In tower clocks the wheel train must turn the large hands on the clock face on the outside of the building, and the weight of these hands, varying with snow and ice buildup, put a varying load on the wheel train. Gravity escapements were used in tower clocks.

By the end of the 19th century specialized escapements were used in the most accurate clocks, called astronomical regulators , which were employed in naval observatories and for scientific research. The Riefler escapement, used in Clemens-Riefler regulator clocks was accurate to 10 milliseconds per day. Electromagnetic escapements, which used a switch or phototube to turn on a solenoid electromagnet to give the pendulum an impulse without requiring a mechanical linkage, were developed. The most accurate pendulum clock was the Shortt-Synchronome clock, a complicated electromechanical clock with two pendulums developed in 1923 by W.H. Shortt and Frank Hope-Jones, which was accurate to better than one second per year. A slave pendulum in a separate clock was linked by an electric circuit and electromagnets to a master pendulum in a vacuum tank. The slave pendulum performed the timekeeping functions, leaving the master pendulum to swing virtually undisturbed by outside influences. In the 1920s the Shortt-Synchronome briefly became the highest standard for timekeeping in observatories before quartz clocks superseded pendulum clocks as precision time standards.

Time indication

The indicating system is almost always the traditional dial with moving hour and minute hands. Many clocks have a small third hand indicating seconds on a subsidiary dial. Pendulum clocks are usually designed to be set by opening the glass face cover and manually pushing the minute hand around the dial to the correct time. The minute hand is mounted on a slipping friction sleeve which allows it to be turned on its arbor. The hour hand is driven not from the wheel train but from the minute hand's shaft through a small set of gears, so rotating the minute hand manually also sets the hour hand.


One-Year German Regulator Clock. Circa 1850 One-Year German Regulator Clock.jpg
One-Year German Regulator Clock. Circa 1850

Pendulum clocks were more than simply utilitarian timekeepers; they were status symbols that expressed the wealth and culture of their owners. They evolved in a number of traditional styles, specific to different countries and times as well as their intended use. Case styles somewhat reflect the furniture styles popular during the period. Experts can often pinpoint when an antique clock was made within a few decades by subtle differences in their cases and faces. These are some of the different styles of pendulum clocks:

See also

Related Research Articles

Clock Instrument for measuring, keeping or indicating time.

A clock is a device used to measure, keep, and indicate time. The clock is one of the oldest human inventions, meeting the need to measure intervals of time shorter than the natural units: the day, the lunar month, and the year. Devices operating on several physical processes have been used over the millennia.

Pendulum Mechanism for regulating the speed of clocks

A pendulum is a weight suspended from a pivot so that it can swing freely. When a pendulum is displaced sideways from its resting, equilibrium position, it is subject to a restoring force due to gravity that will accelerate it back toward the equilibrium position. When released, the restoring force acting on the pendulum's mass causes it to oscillate about the equilibrium position, swinging back and forth. The time for one complete cycle, a left swing and a right swing, is called the period. The period depends on the length of the pendulum and also to a slight degree on the amplitude, the width of the pendulum's swing.

Gridiron pendulum

The gridiron pendulum was a temperature-compensated clock pendulum invented by British clockmaker John Harrison around 1726 and later modified by John Ellicott. It was used in precision clocks. In ordinary clock pendulums, the pendulum rod expands and contracts with changes in temperature. The period of the pendulum's swing depends on its length, so a pendulum clock's rate varied with changes in ambient temperature, causing inaccurate timekeeping. The gridiron pendulum consists of alternating parallel rods of two metals with different thermal expansion coefficients, such as steel and brass. The rods are connected by a frame in such a way that their different thermal expansions compensate for each other, so the overall length of the pendulum, and thus its period, stays constant with temperature.

Grasshopper escapement Low friction clock escapement

The grasshopper escapement is a low-friction escapement for pendulum clocks invented by British clockmaker John Harrison around 1722. An escapement, part of every mechanical clock, is the mechanism that gives the clock's pendulum periodic pushes to keep it swinging, and each swing releases the clock's gears to move forward by a fixed amount, thus moving the hands forward at a steady rate. The grasshopper escapement was used in a few regulator clocks built during Harrison's time, and a few others over the years, but has never seen wide use. The term "grasshopper" in this connection, apparently from the kicking action of the pallets, first appears in the Horological Journal in the late 19th century.

Escapement Mechanism for regulating the speed of clocks

An escapement is a mechanical linkage in mechanical watches and clocks that gives impulses to the timekeeping element and periodically releases the gear train to move forward, advancing the clock's hands. The impulse action transfers energy to the clock's timekeeping element to replace the energy lost to friction during its cycle and keep the timekeeper oscillating. The escapement is driven by force from a coiled spring or a suspended weight, transmitted through the timepiece's gear train. Each swing of the pendulum or balance wheel releases a tooth of the escapement's escape wheel, allowing the clock's gear train to advance or "escape" by a fixed amount. This regular periodic advancement moves the clock's hands forward at a steady rate. At the same time the tooth gives the timekeeping element a push, before another tooth catches on the escapement's pallet, returning the escapement to its "locked" state. The sudden stopping of the escapement's tooth is what generates the characteristic "ticking" sound heard in operating mechanical clocks and watches. The first mechanical escapement, the verge escapement, was invented in medieval Europe during the 13th century, and was the crucial innovation which led to the development of the mechanical clock. The design of the escapement has a large effect on a timepiece's accuracy, and improvements in escapement design drove improvements in time measurement during the era of mechanical timekeeping from the 13th through the 19th century.

Anchor escapement

In horology, the anchor escapement is a type of escapement used in pendulum clocks. The escapement is a mechanism in a mechanical clock that maintains the swing of the pendulum by giving it a small push each swing, and allows the clock's wheels to advance a fixed amount with each swing, moving the clock's hands forward. The anchor escapement was so named because one of its principal parts is shaped vaguely like a ship's anchor.

Verge escapement component of a weight-driven clock

The vergeescapement is the earliest known type of mechanical escapement, the mechanism in a mechanical clock that controls its rate by allowing the gear train to advance at regular intervals or 'ticks'. Its origin is unknown. Verge escapements were used from the late 13th century until the mid 19th century in clocks and pocketwatches. The name verge comes from the Latin virga, meaning stick or rod.

Balance wheel mechanism in clocks

A balance wheel, or balance, is the timekeeping device used in mechanical watches and some clocks, analogous to the pendulum in a pendulum clock. It is a weighted wheel that rotates back and forth, being returned toward its center position by a spiral torsion spring, the balance spring or hairspring. It is driven by the escapement, which transforms the rotating motion of the watch gear train into impulses delivered to the balance wheel. Each swing of the wheel allows the gear train to advance a set amount, moving the hands forward. The balance wheel and hairspring together form a harmonic oscillator, which due to resonance oscillates preferentially at a certain rate, its resonant frequency or 'beat', and resists oscillating at other rates. The combination of the mass of the balance wheel and the elasticity of the spring keep the time between each oscillation or ‘tick’ very constant, accounting for its nearly universal use as the timekeeper in mechanical watches to the present. From its invention in the 14th century until tuning fork and quartz movements became available in the 1960s, virtually every portable timekeeping device used some form of balance wheel.

A balance spring, or hairspring, is a spring attached to the balance wheel in mechanical timepieces. It causes the balance wheel to oscillate with a resonant frequency when the timepiece is running, which controls the speed at which the wheels of the timepiece turn, thus the rate of movement of the hands. A regulator lever is often fitted, which can be used to alter the free length of the spring and thereby adjust the rate of the timepiece.

History of watches

The history of watches began in 16th century Europe, where watches evolved from portable spring-driven clocks, which first appeared in the 15th century. The watch which developed from the 16th century to the mid 20th century was a mechanical device, powered by winding a mainspring which turned gears and then moved the hands, and kept time with a rotating balance wheel. The invention of the quartz watch in the 1960s, which ran on electricity and kept time with a vibrating quartz crystal, proved a radical departure for the industry. During the 1980s quartz watches took over the market from mechanical watches, an event referred to as the "quartz crisis". Although mechanical watches still sell at the high end of the market, the vast majority of watches now have quartz movements.

Galileos escapement Experiments of Galileo Galileo

Galileo's escapement is a design for a clock escapement, invented around 1637 by Italian scientist Galileo Galilei. It was the earliest design of a pendulum clock. Since he was by then blind, Galileo described the device to his son, who drew a sketch of it. The son began construction of a prototype, but both he and Galileo died before it was completed.

Electric clock Clock powered by electricity

An electric clock is a clock that is powered by electricity, as opposed to a mechanical clock which is powered by a hanging weight or a mainspring. The term is often applied to the electrically powered mechanical clocks that were used before quartz clocks were introduced in the 1980s. The first experimental electric clocks were constructed around 1840, but they were not widely manufactured until mains electric power became available in the 1890s. In the 1930s the synchronous electric clock replaced mechanical clocks as the most widely used type of clock.

Riefler escapement

The Riefler escapement is a mechanical escapement for precision pendulum clocks invented and patented by German instrument maker Sigmund Riefler in 1889. It was used in the astronomical regulator clocks made by his German firm Clemens Riefler from 1890 to 1965, which were perhaps the most accurate all-mechanical pendulum clocks made.

Seconds pendulum Pendulum whose period is precisely two seconds

A seconds pendulum is a pendulum whose period is precisely two seconds; one second for a swing in one direction and one second for the return swing, a frequency of 1/2 Hz.

Mechanical watch type of watch which uses a clockwork mechanism to measure the passage of time

A mechanical watch is a watch that uses a clockwork mechanism to measure the passage of time, as opposed to quartz watches which function electronically via a small battery. A mechanical watch is driven by a mainspring which must be wound either periodically by hand or via an automatic winding mechanism. Its force is transmitted through a series of gears to power the balance wheel, a weighted wheel which oscillates back and forth at a constant rate. A device called an escapement releases the watch's wheels to move forward a small amount with each swing of the balance wheel, moving the watch's hands forward at a constant rate. The escapement is what makes the 'ticking' sound which is heard in an operating mechanical watch. Mechanical watches evolved in Europe in the 17th century from spring powered clocks, which appeared in the 15th century.

Marine chronometer portable timepiece

A marine chronometer is a timepiece that is precise and accurate enough to be used as a portable time standard; it can therefore be used to determine longitude by means of accurately measuring the time of a known fixed location, for example Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the time at the current location. When first developed in the 18th century, it was a major technical achievement, as accurate knowledge of the time over a long sea voyage is necessary for navigation, lacking electronic or communications aids. The first true chronometer was the life work of one man, John Harrison, spanning 31 years of persistent experimentation and testing that revolutionized naval navigation and enabling the Age of Discovery and Colonialism to accelerate.

History of timekeeping devices History of devices for measuring time

For thousands of years, devices have been used to measure and keep track of time. The current sexagesimal system of time measurement dates to approximately 2000 BC from the Sumerians.

Shortt–Synchronome clock Precision pendulum clock invented by William Hamilton Shortt and Frank Hope-Jones

The Shortt–Synchronome free pendulum clock was a complex precision electromechanical pendulum clock invented in 1921 by British railway engineer William Hamilton Shortt in collaboration with horologist Frank Hope-Jones, and manufactured by the Synchronome Co., Ltd. of London, UK. They were the most accurate pendulum clocks ever commercially produced, and became the highest standard for timekeeping between the 1920s and the 1940s, after which mechanical clocks were superseded by quartz time standards. They were used worldwide in astronomical observatories, naval observatories, in scientific research, and as a primary standard for national time dissemination services. The Shortt was the first clock to be a more accurate timekeeper than the Earth itself; it was used in 1926 to detect tiny seasonal changes in the Earth's rotation rate. Shortt clocks achieved accuracy of around a second per year, although a recent measurement indicated they were even more accurate. About 100 were produced between 1922 and 1956.

David Robertson was the first Professor of Electrical Engineering at Bristol University. Robertson had wide interests and one of these was horology – he wanted to provide the foundation of what we could call “horological engineering”, that is, a firm science-based approach to the design of accurate mechanical clocks. He contributed a long series on the scientific foundations of precision clocks to the Horological Journal which was the main publication for the trade in the UK; he and his students undertook research on clocks and pendulums ; and he designed at least one notable clock, to keep University time and control the chiming of Great George in the Wills Memorial Building from its inauguration on 1925, for which he also designed the chiming mechanism.

William Hamilton Shortt British horologist and engineer

William Hamilton Shortt (1881-1971) was a railway engineer and noted horologist, responsible for the design of the Shortt-Synchronome free pendulum clock, a widely used time standard, employed internationally in observatories in the period between the two World Wars. His deep involvement in precision timekeeping, as a colleague of Frank Hope-Jones and director of the Synchronome Company, derived from work on the safety of train travel and the accurate measurement of train speeds, following investigations into a serious train derailment of a LSWR train at Salisbury Station in 1906, when twenty-eight people died.


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