The History Of Grandfather Clocks

By Karen Harris
Historical grandfather clocks in the Harz Clock Museum. (Stephan Schulz/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The grandfather clock is a timepiece that goes overboard in the stately elegance department. An unnecessarily large and dominant style of clock, the grandfather clock has less to do with your gramps, however, and more to do with the science of the pendulum and a good old-fashioned ghost story.

The Chris And The Pendulum

Grandfather clocks, which were originally called long case clocks, were invented by a Dutchman named Christiaan Huygens in 1656. Huygens was quite a Renaissance man: He was a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, inventor, and scientist. In fact, he was considered one of the greatest scientific minds of his day. He identified Saturn's moon, Titan; developed a wave theory of light; and founded the field of study known as mathematical physics.

He also dabbled in horology, the study of the measurement of time, which led him to an extensive study of pendulum motion. Use of a pendulum, Huygens discovered, greatly improved the accuracy of timekeeping. His pendulum clock marked the biggest breakthrough in clock making in three centuries, but it required a sizable pendulum housed in a long case, hence the name "long case clock."