The First Mechanical Clock


723 A.D ( 8th Century ) was the year when the very first mechanical clock was invented. There have been quite a few variations of clocks before the invention of the mechanical clock like the different types of sundial but none of them was nearly as accurate in telling time as a mechanical clock, though this clock used water to run and was an astronomical clock in function, which means that instead of moving hour hands it moved astronomical figures like the sun and the moon to dictate their location at the time of the day. To further elaborate on how it worked, the water flowed into scoops and turned the wheel automatically, which led to the wheel’s one whole complete revolution day and night. The movement of the wheel moved the connected rings which lead to the motion of the celestial bodies marked on the clock.

Unfortunately, this very first mechanical clock was soon reported to be corroded. And we don’t have any reference to actually further elaborate on how it looked. One of the problems that this clock had was that it ran on water which meant that it came with the inconsistencies of its properties as well as it wasn’t a very suitable element to have been used in a self-sustaining mechanical clock.  This problem was solved when after over a century another scientist named Chang Ssu Hsiin made a similar mechanical clock but with the adjustment of using mercury instead of water in 976 A.D.

Mercury would scoop down the waterwheel the same way as water did and would rotate the wheel and the ring attached with it which would lead to the movement of the astronomical bodies on top of the clock. This model was designed for his armillary sphere in 976 and was later completed by the creation of it in 977.

The Confusion Surrounding The First Mechanical Clock

The first mechanical clock is often confused to be created in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens but it was the first pendulum clock rather then being the first mechanical clock, to elaborate, it was a further evolution of the original clock that we just discussed and it utilized weights and the force of gravity for the function that was carried out by water in the very first mechanical clock like we just discussed. The clock was patented in the next year of being invented which means 1656. His extensive research in horology ultimately resulted in the analysis of the pendulum in his book  Horologium Oscillatorium, ( which is regarded as one of the most important 17th-century works in mechanics ). Most of this book is about the motion of the pendulum and how it operates.

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The idea of such a mechanical clock that was not controlled by periodic motion but rather by a  continuous oscillation and weights in a fixed cycle was first laid by the famous scientist Gallelio Galeli. But he didn’t live long enough to actually materialize his thinking. But fortunately, this was materialized by Christian near over a century later.

The mechanical clocks from back in the day have evolved to what we call the analog clocks which are electrical which we so fondly use even now

How Do The Conventional Mechanical Clocks Function?

The Escapement

One of the integral parts of the conventional mechanical clock was ” The Escapement ” This is what transferred the energy of the gravitational force from the weights to the clock’s counting mechanism. One of the most popular escapements that were used was verge-and-foliot.

A picture of verge and foliot to better ansswermMechanical Clocks
The verge-and-foliot was the most common mechanism for controlling the descent of a weight in a weight-driven clock.Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

In a typical verge-and-foliot escapement, the weighted rope unwinds from the barrel, turning the toothed escape wheel. Controlling the movement of the wheel is the verge, a vertical rod with pallets at each end. When the wheel turns, the top pallet stops it and causes the foliot, with its regulating weights, to oscillate. This oscillation turns the verge and releases the top pallet. The wheel advances until it is caught again by the bottom pallet, and the process repeats itself. The actions of the escapement stabilize the power of the gravitational force and are what produce the ticktock of weight-driven clocks.

The Wheelwork

This is the series of wheels/rings or gears that would transmit motion from the original source that was originally water and then mercury-like we discussed in the initial paragraphs of this articles to the instrument that showed time, and that would be the hands of the clocks, which were only invented after a few centuries have passed from the original invention of the astronomical mechanical clocks. As in those mechanical clocks rather than moving the hands of the clock, the representation of the celestial bodies on the top part would move. Regardless, the power is first transmitted by the main, big wheel which is attached with a gear with smaller teeth and whose arbor is attached to a further second wheel, which will be passed on the movement just like gears move. The ratios of the gears involved are such that the one arbor, most of the times the second or the third arbor completes its whole revolution in an hour and it can be used to maneuver the smaller arbor which would be in control of the minute hand. Moreover, the arbor carrying the minute hand comes with a slipping clutch that allows the hands to identify the accurate time.

This is basically what was used in nearly every mechanical clock that you might have seen. The work of mercury that was initially founded by the Chinese astronomer was later replaced by weights and the mechanical clock evolve itself and was often even referred to as the pendulum clock. The frame in this case was made up of 2 specific pivots that would carry the weight of the gears and are often aced on four pillars. The weight that has now replaced the mercury in the mechanism to make the main gear move, forms a line that is coiled around a barrel, which is raised by the turning of the winding square or in some cases by the pulling of the line. The main wheel of the frame is engaged with the center pinion on the arbor and the front pivot of this wheel is stretched. This then carries the minute hand the gears necessary to make the hour hand move. To better elaborate, down below is an elaborative picture

A picture of the components of a traditional pendulum clock to better answer " When Was The First Mechanical Clock Invented?
A Picture Of The Main Components Of A Mechanical ( Pendulum ) Clock

The central wheel also engages with the pallets fixed to the arbor. Moreover, fixed along with the pallet is also a crutch that ends at a fork that is connected with the pendulum rod. Later these mechanical clocks that have evolved from the mercury-based water clock to electrical clock and these are the ones still being used quite promptly today. In these clocks that we now call analog clock the work of the weight ( previously mercury and water ) is carried out by the cell that we add in it. And these are obviously even more accurate

Who Invented The First Mechanical Clock?

I Hsing invented the very first mechanical clock in 723 A.D. ( 8th Century ) He was a Chinese. Not much is known about him except from the fact that he was a Chinese Monk and a Mathematician

Did The Chineese Make The Very First Mechanical Clock?

Yes, the first mechanical clock was made by I Hsing who was Chinese. Moreover, the person who evolved this clock to become even more precise was Chang Ssu Hsiin who in 976 A.D. made the same mechanical clock except the fact that this one worked used Mercury instead of water, which meant that it was pure from the inconsistencies of water and as more accurate. This clock created by Chang Ssu Hsiin is also often confused as being the first but it was an evolution from the original clock created by I Hsing

Hopefully this article was helpful in answering some of your clocks-related questions If you have any clock-related questions, feel free to use the comment section below. And if you want to know why clocks don’t appear in dreams, we have a great article on just that so do give it a click if you are interested “Why don’t clocks appear in dreams? Clocks and dreams!Opens in a new tab.“. Here is also a link about the history of clocks if you want to give that a look “History of timekeeping devicesOpens in a new tab.

AK Iqbal

A University of London’ student with a passion for writing. Clocks have always intrigued me and the importance that they have in our lives is way beyond phenomenal. So, on this site, I write everything about clocks, everything from answering any clock-related queries that you might have along with recommending some of my favorite clocks accordingly. Moreover, I will also be conducting some researches on clock related topics and sharing the things that I learn. So stay tuned to ohmyclock for all the fun clocks related content

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