Electric Clocks of the Early 20th Century

The first electric clock was designed and patented by Scottish inventor and engineer Alexander Bain in 1841. Bain’s design featured a pendulum clock powered by electromagnetic impulses instead of springs and weights.

The Development of Dry Pile Electric Clocks

Before Bain secured the patent for the first electric clock, many inventors and horologists experimented with the idea of battery-powered clocks. Of note is Francis Ronalds, an English scientist and inventor, who many call as the first electrical engineer. Francis Ronalds was later knighted (1870) for inventing the electric telegraph.

In 1814, Sir Francis Ronalds designed his version of an electric clock which is powered by an electric column or dry pile. Dry pile batteries had a long service life. However, one disadvantage a dry pile battery had is its electric properties can be altered by changes in weather, temperature, or humidity, which affects the clocks accuracy in telling time. Because of this, inventors like Bain sought to create a prototype of a clock with electric impulses as the power source.

The First Self-Contained Battery Clock was Invented

The following years after Bain invented the first electric clock, several prototypes of electromechanical and electromagnetic clocks were created by different scientists and inventors to improve the design. However, it was only in 1906 when the first clock with batteries inside it was invented.

The master clock system of a self-contained battery-driven clock still has a pendulum. But the pendulum moves when it receives electric currents. The pendulum’s movement then prompts the clock’s gears to turn, lifting a lever after imparting electric impulses to the pendulum. A light count wheel also moves as the pendulum swings. With every double swing of the pendulum, the light count wheel turns through the pitch of one tooth. It also releases a lever every half a minute. Meanwhile, the lever releases an impulse to the pendulum, restoring it to its original position by an electromagnet.

This type of antique electric clock is more accurate than other versions because symmetrical electrical impulses are released to the swinging pendulum as it passes the middle position and there is minimal interference as it moves.

The Synchronous Electric Clock

In 1918, American inventor Henry Ellis Warren created the first synchronous electric clock. This type of clock used oscillations from a power grid to keep time. The synchronous motor of the clock runs in the same rhythm as the frequency of the power grid. The mechanism of the synchronous electric clock depends entirely on the stability of the frequency coming from the power source. Any fluctuations in the power source could cause inaccuracy in keeping time.

The Shortt Pendulum Clocks

Invented by British Engineer William H. Shortt in 1921, the Shortt-Synchronome clock features two pendulum clocks–a master clock with a pendulum that swings inside a copper vacuum tank and a slave clock with a pendulum that moves in synchronicity to the master pendulum through electromagnetic impulse and electric currents. This type of pendulum clock was considered highly accurate and was primarily used in observatories for scientific research.

The Precision of the Quartz Clock

The quartz clock is considered one of the most significant inventions in horology. For many centuries, clocks run on weight-driven pendulums which relied on gravity. Since the pull of gravity differs throughout the world, pendulum clocks could tell different times based on where it is located.

To solve this problem, Canadian engineer who worked at Bell Telephone Laboratories designed the prototype of the quartz clock in 1927. Unlike its predecessors, a quartz clock used vibrations from a quartz crystal. Gravity has no impact on the movement of the clocks gears, making the quartz clock a more reliable timekeeping device.

Own a Piece of Horological History

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