4.09 – Clockworks Devices

Last Update: 08-09-2022 @ 07:47

4.09 – Clockwork Devices

The ninth point of view of the taxonomy is about clockwork-based measuring devices. This category is reserved for specialized applications where the main function is to measure time with other activities. So, the time is not given in the manner of an ordinary clock. The following list is not exhaustive:

Next: 4.10 – Periods and Styles

Home » 4.00 – Taxonomy of Clocks » 4.09 – Clockworks Devices

At its core, the Barograph is an instrument to measure changes in atmospheric pressure; it has at its core a clock mechanism. Illustrated (left) is a very old barograph by Alexander Cumming, 1766, exhibited at the London Science Museum.
Shown in the right photo is a 20th-century interpretation of the barograph, a Taylor Instruments. The pressure is recorded continuously on a cylindrical paper, with a tiny feather at the end of an arm. The first models of these barographs were spring-loaded.  Later on, as in the first AC/DC electric clocks, a small electric motor has replaced the spring movement. For more details on Barograph, see Wikipedia.

(Left Image from the Science Museum authorized under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International; Right Image ID240: All rights reserved, Bordloub)

“The chronometer is an extremely accurate watch capable of indicating seconds. For a watch to be called a chronometer, it must obtain the Chronometer Official Swiss Control (COSC) certificate. Furthermore, the watch is evaluated on seven criteria for two weeks, at 8, 23 and 38 degrees Celsius, as well as in five different positions.” (Point Magazine – my translation from French). The small button at the left of the crown serves to stop the time. In popular language, the chronometer is called “stopwatch,” a watch that can stop the time. Thus, a chronometer does not give the time. But a chronograph does.

(Image no 75-1298, D2004-008892 authorized by the Canadian Museum of History)

In 1891, two trains collided in the United States due to an official’s watch malfunction. The railway authorities then decided to set out rigorous standards for railroad chronometers that had to be validated. As a result, two companies took over the market for these chronometers, the Waltham Watch Co. and the Elgin National Watch Co., although several others already applied equally strict standards to manufacture their stopwatches. For more details, see Wikipedia.

(Image by Ball Watch Co. authorized under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Jean-Moïse Pouzait (1743-1793), a Swiss watchmaker, invented a watch said “à seconde morte indépendante” (independent dead second) with a second set of gears and hand that may be stopped while the time clock is still moving. It was the ancestor of the “Chronographe.” It was a rudimentary stopwatch since you had to write on a piece of paper the amount of punch on the movement. Nevertheless, other clockmakers improved the design. Louis Moinet (1768-1853) designed what he named a “compteur de tierces” in 1815, completed in 1816, capable of measuring 1/60th of a second (right image). He invented it for use in astronomy. That explains why the chronograph’s invention was sometimes attributed to Nicolas Mathieu Rieussac (1781-1852), another French clockmaker, who used his device at the horse racetrack in 1821 at the demand of King Louis XVIII, who wanted to know how fast went his horses. But the Rieussac was only capable of a 1-second precision. So Moinet must be recognized as the inventor of the modern chronograph.
There is often a tendency to confuse chronometer with chronograph. The latter, a Philippe Patek & Cie from 1938 (left image), can measure the time that elapses from a given moment (large dial), but it also gives the time (inner dial). On the other hand, a chronograph can be recognized as a stopwatch if it has received certification. Visually, it generally has two buttons on each side of the crown.

(Image of the Moinet authorized under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

(Image of Patek Chronograph by Kitchener.lord authorized under Creative Commons CC  BY-NC-ND 2.0)








The Pigeon racing clock or “Constateur” is used to measure the speed of the pigeon’s racing in the following way. The competitor attaches a small ring to the pigeon’s leg with a unique number on it. This number is recorded in the clock, which is then sealed and adjusted. The pigeon flies away. When he returns, the ring is inserted into one of the slots of the device, which then records its arrival time. The average speed of the pigeon is then calculated and compared to other pigeons to determine a winner. Here, a model from the early 1960s of the company W.Levi and Benzing specialized in this type of clock. Today’s “constateurs” are electronic and digital.

(Image ID077: All rights reserved, Bordloub)

As the name suggests, the Control timer or Time-switch could control (turn on and off) any equipment plugged into it. Here, two types of timer-switch from the 1940s. The left one manufactured by Lux Clock Manufacturing, Co could be permanently connected to an electric stove., and for example, start and stop the oven. The right one is a 1943 General Electric control timer. To register the start and stop time of any device plugged into its power outlet, like a coffee-maker or a lamp, one had to pull or push the small rods around the dial in front of the desired hour-minutes.

(Images ID152 & ID215: All rights reserved, Bordloub)

Here is a timer manufactured by Lux Clock Manufacturing Co. for Picker International, a manufacturer of radiological equipment in the 1950s. It had to be used in a professional context because it is cumbersome and very robust. This timer measured the development time of X-rays, hence the inscription DEV (development) on the dial.

(Image ID153: All rights reserved, Bordloub)

A metronome is an instrument designed to set the tempo with visual and auditory stimuli. The first metronomes were mechanical and spring-driven. Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel from Amsterdam probably designed the first metronome in 1814 but neglect to patent it. So the German inventor, Johann Maelzel, improved the Winkel design and patented it successfully in 1815. He created in Paris, France, in 1816, the factory to manufacture his metronomes. Illustrated: a Maelzel metronome from Paris (1815-1846) in varnish mahogany, the movement made by Seth Thomas.

(Images ID252 et ID252mvt: All rights reserved, Bordloub)

I printed my first photos in a dark room with an electric timer of this kind, a Gralab No. 168 whose tip of the needles is luminescent.  All you had to do to automate the time of exposure was plug the enlarger in its electrical outlet, set the time, and turn on the device with the top right switch. The illustrator timer dates from the 1960s and 1970s.

(Image ID203: All rights reserved, Bordloub)

Viewed in an antique shop, this electric timer from the 1960s determined the time of a race, for example, using strong light and a photo-electric cell connected to it. So we could call it Track and Field Timer.

(Image: All rights reserved, Bordloub)







Abraham-Louis Perrelet used a self-winding watch mechanism of its invention (1770) to power the first pedometer he created in 1780. A Pedometer counts the number of steps taken by a walking individual in a given time. Illustrated is a mechanical-motion New Haven pedometer from 1945-1950. Just wear it to make it work. Inside, a crescent-shaped weight swings with each step and counts the number of steps per second up to a maximum of a 100-mile walk. A small dial inside allows adjusting the pedometer to take into account the length of the walker’s steps. On the back, a screw in the middle allows resetting the pedometer.

(Images ID253 et ID250mvt: All rights reserved, Bordloub)

The first chess pendulum was used at the Second International Chess Tournament in London in 1883. Thomas Bright Wilson was the designer and builder of this first Chess clock. It serves as calculating the time allotted by each player to play his moves so that one or the other does not have an advantage related to the time required to play. The principle is simple. The timer includes two clocks with each a button that serves to stop the time of one clock and start the other. Everything is very well explained on Wikipedia. Illustrated: a BHB Chess Clock Schachuhr – c. 1970 in new condition with its original box.

(Image ID281: All rights reserved, Bordloub)

The taximeter is a measuring device based on a clock mechanism designed to measure the price to pay for a taxi ride according to the time and distance traveled. A German Argo vintage taximeter made by Kienzle is illustrated. The taximeter was invented by the German Freidrich Wilhem Gustav Brun in 1891. See Wikipedia for more details.

(Image by antigavin authorized under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Max Maria von Weber, a German engineer, invented the tachograph for the railways in 1844. It was applied to commercial vehicles afterward in the middle of the 20th century. A tachograph, such as the illustrated one from the 1950s, is a clock device designed to measure a trucker’s time, travel distance,e and speed. It is usually installed in the cab of the truck and connected to its odometer. The device operates with electricity provided by the truck. Today, tachographs are entirely electronic and digital.

(Image: All rights reserved, Bordloub)

The time-stamp is a clock mechanism-based device designed to print the date and time on a piece of paper. There are several types of time-stamps, depending on their usage. Some of the most well-known clock mechanism time-stamps include:

        • Punch clock
        • Watchman’s clock
        • Park Meter
        • Parking Ticket or Pay & Display machine.

Willard Le Grand Bundy, a jeweler from Auburn, New York, patented in 1890 a mechanical time recorder to register the time worked by workers in different settings. He even created a company to mass-produced these time recorders, the Bundy Manufacturing Co., integrated in 1900 into the International Time Recording Co., and in 1911, into Computing-Tabulating-Recording Co., the precursor of IBM. Employees had to insert a card into the clock slot that automatically recorded the arrival time (also the date in some cases), and at the end of the shift, the exit time. This allowed the employer to pay for the hours worked. Illustrated is a model from the International Business Machine from the mid-1930s, made in its Canadian division in Toronto, Ontario.

(Image ID172: All rights reserved, Bordloub)

Johannes Bürk from Schwenningen, Germany, invented the first portable watchman’s clock in 1855. A watchman clock has a drum shape inserted in a leather case with a strap, and it’s worn on the shoulder. It serves at recording the watchman’s visit at each station of his round. Indeed, to record on a round piece of paper the time of his visit, he has to insert in his clock the big key attached by a chain to a small box screwed to the wall. The watchman’s clock is locked before his run, so his boss could be sure that his building has been fully traversed and monitored by opening the clock and checking the data recorded on the paper. Illustrated: a Detex Eco from the 1970s with a station.

(Image ID174: All rights reserved, Bordloub)

The Park-meter is used to measure the parking time of a vehicle according to the money inserted in it, as in this traditional mechanical parking meter, many of which still exist in several cities but in its digital form. Roger W. Bason filed the first patent for such a device in 1928. Holger George Thuesen and Gerald A. Hale, professors of engineering, designed the first working parking meter, the Black Maria, in 1935, at the request of an Oklahoma lawyer and newspaper publisher, Carl C. Magee, who patented the design in 1938. Mass-production of the park-meter began in 1936 until the mid-1980s. These park meters had to be wind occasionally by a serviceman. The model developed by M. H. Rhodes of Hartford, Connecticut, and manufacture by Mark-Time Parking Meter Co., Miami, was more practical since the meter was started by turning the handle as the one illustrated. For more details, see Wikipedia.

(Image: All rights reserved, Bordloub)

The mechanical parking meter is an endangered species in modern cities, replaced by sophisticated electronic timers called Parking Ticket Machine in North America or Pay and Display in Europe, allowing payment by credit card or mobile phone.  From San Francisco, California, Park-UR-Self introduced the first Pay and display device in the United States in 1950. It became the leading vendor, now known as VenTek International.

(Image by Michael Coghlan authorized under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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