When Was The First Mechanical Clock Invented?


723A.D. ( 8th century ) was the year when the very first mechanical clock was invented, it was invented by a Chinese mathematician, philosopher, astronomer known as I Hsing. The very first mechanical clock imparted us on the journey of more precision and played a very integral role in building our society the way it is now. All of the experiments that have been conducted and all the inventions that have been made used the aspect of time measurement at some point. And mechanical clocks were the very first clocks that introduced us to accuracy in time measurement.

The very first mechanical 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 led 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 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. Water 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 than 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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 0f754cd9bce82e3daa2b12d4a85e78cb3868d6fe.jpg

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 now electrical that 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

Are Analog Clocks Mechanical Clock?

Yes And No, Analog clocks is the evolved version of mechanical clock but don’t work on the same principle anymore as it uses cells for the main source of energy rather then the water and mercury ( which were used in the very first mechanical clocks ) and weights ( that were used in Pendulum Clocks )

The Impact Of The Mechanical Clock

The impact of the mechanical clock and what it prompted cannot be understated, it is something that helped every invention that was made as everything required precision of time and mechanical clocks were the basic pioneer of that, even the atomic clocks that we have built now, the GPS system and even the internet wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for the accuracy of time-keeping devices that we built

What Are Mechanical Clocks Made Of?

Conventionally the mechanical clocks were made of iron gears for the most part and then the astronomical figures were on top of them were of wood or some othe materials, as time evolved, there were changes made to first the outer frame which now included more of wood. But even now in the conventional sense of a pure mechanical clock iron gears are used

Hopefully, this article was helpful in answering some of your mechanical clocks related questions If you have any further 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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