About Cuckoo Clocks

About Cuckoo Clocks: A Uniquely German Invention

I am sure that you would have always gaped in awe at the cuckoo coming out of the clock in those cartoon shows that you enjoyed watching as a child. Well, the mechanism behind the cuckoo coming out whenever the clock strikes an hour is a pendulum that strikes the hour with the help of pipes and bellows whilst striking a wire gong. It’s designed so as to resemble the voice of a cuckoo. Did you know how the idea of making a cuckoo clock originated? Well, a person called Philipp Hainhofer wrote about the clock that was owned by a prince named Elector August Von Sachsen, way back in the early seventeenth century.

The mechanism of the cuckoo clock finds a mention in the famous music book Musurgia Universalis too. It is believed that the first cuckoo clocks were built in Black Forest sometime in the middle of the 18th century.


These clocks were quite raw in form and were made using wooden toothed wheels and stones. The early clock had a flat wooden face with the clockwork at the back. There was a piece of wood shaped like a semicircle atop the face which had the door for the cuckoo. There was no cabinet to enclose the clockwork for this Patten. These models were sold from door to door by peddlers with the dials mounted on their backs.

Over the years, cuckoo clocks graduated from simple designs to those with more color and decorations and vivid designs on the clock by the painter. Franz Anton Ketterer, Johann Baptist and Fidel Hepting are said to be the early cuckoo clock makers of Black Forest.

However, there are a number of stories surrounding the origin of the cuckoo clock. There is one tale that talks about how a Bohemian merchant sold a cuckoo clock to traders from Black Forest thus paving way for its popularity in the Black Forest belt. Another story has it that the clock was the brain-child of a clock-master from Black Forest. But many argue that the latter story is not true since it is believed that cuckoo clock was much older than clock-making in Black Forest.

Sometime in the mid nineteenth century, there was a competition announced for the best clock case designs wherein the participants could use homemade materials in their designs. It was during this competition that an architect called Eisenlohr gave a very impressive design depicting the portico of a railway guard’s house with a clock dial. This design is the forerunner of the modern day cuckoo clocks.

Late in 1854, the railway-guard house clock was accompanied by the mechanisms of a cuckoo. Several designs had been developed keeping the railway house design as the model. Some clocks used motifs of animals, guns and oak leaves and even bones were used to carve the hands of the clocks. Eisenlohr’s design became very popular after the competition.

Today’s cuckoo clocks retain the traditional Bahnhäusle or the railway house model but have included several features like leaves, birds and animals on the face of the clock and it remains synonymous with Black Forest despite the several doubts revolving its origin. The Black Forest territory is still the hub of cuckoo clocks production though the idea has caught up with the Swiss too. The Swiss cuckoo clocks are depicted in the ‘Chalet’ style with Swiss melodies like Edelweiss that are incorporated in the making of the clocks.

Whatever may be the modifications and developments in the design of a cuckoo clock, it is worthwhile to cherish one as a fine piece of art combined with beauty.