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The History of the Cuckoo Clock

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The following essay was kindly provided by Dold.  The story of clock making in the Black Forest begins in the early 17th century.  People there had always crafted and carved using the local wood that was one of the few natural resources in the area, especially during the long winters when the land was covered with snow and they could hardly leave their houses.

Around 1630, a peddler who sold glass from the Black Forest to foreign countries, returned with a clock, perhaps from the land of Böhmen (today's Czech Republic). The artisians were fascinated by this technical wonder that kept time much better than the hourglass or sundials that were in current use.  Thus started the tradition of clock making.

Those first clocks were rather primitive. They used toothed wheels made of wood and simple stones as weights. Instead of a pendulum, they used a piece of wood called a "Waag" that moved forward and back above the clock dial, to make the clock keep time.

Most of the people who made clocks at that time were not the rich farmers, but the so-called "Häuslers". In the Black Forest area, usually the oldest son of a farmer inherited the farm; his siblings only got a small piece of land. These "Häuslers" had to work for other farmers to survive during the winter-months, and clock making was a welcome way for them to earn a little money.  By 1690, a true industry of clock making had developed.



Over a period of time, people in the Black Forest began specializing on certain aspects of clock making. There were carvers, carpenters making the cases, painters (most clocks of that time were flat and painted, and looked quite similar to today's "Black Forest Wall Clocks") and manufacturers of chains and toothed wheels.

Some clocks were made with moving figures, for example, a turning couple or a butcher together with a cow.  In 1738 Franz Ketterer from the village of Schönwald was the first to build a cuckoo for his clocks.  The call of the cuckoo was made the same way it is today: two bellows send air through pipes. A similar technology was already in use for church-organs at this time. So, Ketterer's clocks were the first with the cuckoo behind the small door that opens on the hour and half hour.

Clockmaking became more and more important for the rather poor Black Forest area. It is known for example that in 1808 in Triberg, and the surrounding villages, 790 of 9013 inhabitants were involved in the clock-making. In 1850 the Herzog (Duke) of Baden founded a School for clock-making in Furtwangen, where students learned math and drawing as well as making cases and movements for the clocks.



The technology continued to improve.  In 1712 Friedrich Dilger from the small village of Urach went to France on a sort of sabbatical.  He brought back new ideas and tools, and used his new skills in building clocks.







Today the carvings and clock cabinets are still made in the traditional way by experienced masters of the handicraft. Original drawings of the first clocks, are still used and modified as patterns for new models, but the cuckoo clock in its basic form is 200 years old and has survived the ages. The cuckoo clock symbolizes the past, present and the future.





The best ideas do not occur at work, but often during unrelated occasions. It requires talent and patience to turn these ideas into sketches & drawings. The idea must be transferred onto a paper as a pattern before it can be made into an actual clock.




Then carefully selected lindenwood, that has been well-stored, is cut into the correct length and width and placed in a dryer installation for 2-3 weeks.

The wood is cut into a rough shape by a fretsaw before being given to the carver. The wood-carver carves the wood into its final form.



Large, difficult models are always carved individually.

For smaller model clocks the carver works with several pieces of wood which are fastened to a board.

Larger carvings, such as this eagle, require a lot of effort.  Still, it is always rewarding when a clock is successfully completed.


The Black Forest Clock has been continuously improved upon to maintain its high standards.  Alfons Dold was born with an affection for tradition and love of the time honored use of wood as a natural artistic medium. He developed a cuckoo clock manufacturing process that combines tradition and his personal demand for excellence. Today we are still a family owned factory and manufacturer of cuckoo clocks, grandfather clocks, wall clocks and nice carvings.  Dold clocks are not merely a passing art form but treasured heirlooms for generations to come.


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