Innovation for the Grandfather Clock

Have you ever wondered what makes a grandfather clock tick? Well a grandfather clock is similar to all pendulum clocks in the sense that the clock functions by movement of the pendulum. Early clock inventors found that the time it takes a pendulum to swing back and forth is always the same as long as the pendulum is the same length and the pendulum kept swinging. The key to a pendulum clock and why it works is the escapement and the two together account for the tic tock sound you hear.

The escapement connects to the gear trains which drives the hands chimes and dials. Each gear train is attached to a pulley by a weight and overtime the weight drops slowly and that turns the gears. To keep the pendulum swinging the escapement gives the pendulum the right amount of energy so it overcomes friction on each swing. The weights soon get to the end of the chain and you need to wind the gears back up so the weight is at the top of the chain. Without the anchor escapement giving the pendulum energy, the clock would not be able to function.

The anchor escapement consists of two parts; the escape wheel and the anchor. The escape wheel is a vertical wheel with pointed teeth like a saw. The anchor is shaped similarly to the anchor of a ship and pivots back and forth above the escape wheel. The arms of the anchor have angled flat faces which the teeth of the escape wheel push against, called pallets. The central shaft of the anchor is attached to the pendulum, so the anchor swings back and forth, with the pallets alternately catch and release an escape wheel tooth on each side.

The anchor was actually the second escapement widely used in Europe for pendulum clocks. The original was the Verge Escapement, however the anchor was a much more efficient design and dramatically improved upon the original. Eventually the anchor was replaced by the deadbeat escapement which is still used today. The deadbeat corrected the issues the anchor presented by being a frictional and recoil escapement. Meaning it always had to be pushed rather than swinging freely and caused more significant wear on the movement.

Without the invention and innovation of the escapement we would not have the precision timekeeping we do now. These inventions led to a rash of possibilities in precision timepieces and without argument hold the title of one of time’s most important innovations.

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