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The History of the Cuckoo Clock

Cuckoo clocks originated in the Black Forest in Germany. Wood crafting and carving in the Black Forest during this period was very popular, as wood was a freely available natural resource.

The first cuckoo clocks date back to around 1730, and were made nearly entirely from wood, using wooden cogs and gears, with stones as weights. The pendulum was made from a piece of wood called a "Waag".

The clocks were generally made by farm labourers in their spare time, to earn extra income. Designs were simple at first - many had square faces painted with water colors.

After a while, these clock makers took over specialist tasks. Carpenters and carvers made the cases, painters decorated the cases, and others made the chains and cogs.

The clock makers became increasing inventive with their designs. For example, some clocks had figures that moved. Others had birds' wings and beaks that were animated or decorated with feathers. Other decorative themes included hunting or family pictures. Some were adorned with enameled dials.

The first true cuckoo clock was invented by Franz Anton Ketterer (1676 - 1749) in 1738, in Schönwald near Triberg, Germany. Other early cuckoo clock makers include Fidel Hepting and Johann Baptist Beha. The cuckoo made its sound in the same way as today - two bellows send air through two pipes to produce two different tones, using the same principal as a pipe organ.

Subsequently, cuckoo clocks and clock making in general gained pace in the Black Forest. During cold winters, the locals were frequently snowed up, so they passed their time creating cuckoo clocks in many styles with ornate carvings and cabinets.

The clocks made in the winter months were subsequently sold by peddlars over the summer, as they journeyed to sell their wares throughout the European continent. These clocks were considered to be works of art and were extremely prized possessions.

As their popularity grew, so did the industry surrounding them. Nowadays, cuckoo clocks are manufactured in workshops using modern methods to make movements and cases. However, the wood is still carved by craftsmen as it was 200 years ago, with old drawings and old clocks are still being used as the inspiration for todays patterns.

However, the modern mass produced clocks today invariably are made in the style of a chalet or birdhouse. They contain batteries for power and do not produce the cuckoo sound with bellows, but with electronics.

The advantage of today's mass production is that everyone can now afford one, even if purists would argue that the modern manufacturing methods make them fake. For those who can afford them, the traditional handcrafted designs are still being made today, nearly 200 years later.