10 Things You Didn’t Know About Clocks – Clock Facts Part Two


A question opened Clock Facts Part One of this series : “If you don’t know what you don’t know, then how can you know that you don’t know it?” Well, if you’ve read part one and now know what you didn’t know before, here’s part two to start all over.



1. Henry Ford offered one million dollars for this clock
In 1928, the automaker Henry Ford, offered an astounding one million dollars to the Bily brothers for the eight foot, five hundred pound American Pioneer History Clock that they carved. But, the brothers turned Mr. Ford’s offer down. They didn’t want to part with it and kept it stored in their barn with the rest of their handmade collection. They never sold any of their clocks–not even one. (see: Bily Clocks Museum and Farmer Clock Makers.)




2. Great discoveries would have never happened without the clock

The invention of the clock has had a tremendous impact on history. For one thing, countless scientific experiments and breakthroughs that depended on the use of a stopwatch would never have happened if time measurement hadn’t advanced past the sundial. And what about keeping our schedules in business, travel, finance, medicine, government, recreation, schools, computers, and so on? Our lives would be radically impacted if not for the invention of the clock.


Blenheim Palace clock tower3. Why clock dials with Roman numerals use “IIII” instead of “IV”

For centuries, clock makers have inscribed within the ring of numbers on their clock dials the Roman numeral “four” written as “IIII” instead of “IV.” Why? It’s for symmetry: the “IIII” presents a better visual balance for the number “eight” written on the other side of the dial as “VIIl.”


Ten-Things-#2-Tower_aip.orgclock4. This tower clock helped Albert Einstein

While riding in a streetcar in Bern, Switzerland, Albert Einstein saw the city’s 13th century clock tower passing behind him (photo on right). He knew that since he was traveling away from the clock, the light of the clock’s image would have to catch up to him. But since light travels at 186,000 miles per second, so much faster than the 20 milers per hour of the streetcar, he of course knew there could be no perceivable delay in the clock’s image reaching him.

Some thoughts entered his mind: How would the clock’s image appear if the streetcar moved faster and faster? If that were to happen, the clock hands would continue to move more slowly. And if the streetcar traveled at the speed of light, the clock’s image would follow him at the same speed but wouldn’t be able to catch up to him. The result? The clock’s image would freeze, and time would “stand still.”  It was a streetcar ride on that day that gave Einstein a clue to the flexibility of time. Eventually, it led to his theory of relativity: E=MC ².

5. Why a clock repair person is called a “clock maker”

Many years ago, if you wanted to buy a clock you would have to see your local clock maker. He made clocks one at a time, commissioned by each individual customer. You would also have to see him if your clock needed adjustment or repair. Today, even though clocks aren’t made old-world style in a local clock maker’s shop, the tradition of calling a clock repair person a “clock maker” continues.

6. The Westminster melody has words to go with it

Almost everyone has heard the Westminster melody chiming away on one clock or another. But did you know that there are lyrics that accompany the melody?TEN-#2-wikepedia-westminster-chimes

O Lord our God
Be Thou our guide
That by thy help
No foot may slide.

 Ten-#2-ebay.com-rubies7. Why precious stones are put inside of watch movements?

What do you think happens inside of a watch when oil breaks down and metal rubs against metal? You have rapid wear on pivots and bearings, and the next stop is the repair shop.

To reduce wear and friction, watch makers of today use synthetic jewels such as rubies at the heaviest friction points because precious stones are much harder and longer lasting than metal.


8. What do the Latin words “Tempus Fugit” mean on a clock dial?

These words are often mistaken for the brand name of the clock,  but they are a Latin phrase that’s usually translated into English as “time flies”.


Ten-#2Grandfather-OceansBridge.com9. What does the grandfather clock have to do with grandfathers?

In 1836, American songwriter Henry Clay Work, wrote a song based on a folk story about a floor clock that stopped when its owner, a grandfather, passed away. He named the song “My Grandfather’s Clock.” Selling over 1 million copies of sheet music, it’s melody, and lyrics penetrated the hearts and minds of people everywhere and eventually the term “grandfather clock” became synonymous with this style of clock that inspired the song.




10. Selling time was their family business

In the early part of the 20th century, domestic clocks were still not very reliable and regular resetting was usually needed. So in 1836 John Belville, an assistant at the Greenwich Observatory, set his pocket watch and began delivering the precise time to offices around London as part of a government program.  After he passed away, his wife Maria continued the service as a private venture. She retired in 1892, handing over control of the business to their daughter, Ruth who carried the same pocket chronometer around London each week until she retired in 1940.

Well… after we finished writing this blog, one more clock fact came to mind.  We couldn’t resist adding it to the list, so here’s clock fact #11:

11. The origin of the term “o’clock”

The term “o’clock” came into use during the early part of the 18th century. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it was a shortened version of the phrase “of the clock” which referred to the time on a clock face.

We hope you’ve enjoyed part two of our series. Please let us know!

Photo Credits:

Photo #1 – The American Pioneer History Clock – constanceore.com 

Photo # 2 – Blenheim Palace clock tower – www.timeassured.com 

Photo # 3 – Tower clock in Bern, Switzerland – aip.org 

Photo # 4 – Westminster chimes music – Wikipedia 

Photo # 5 – Group of rough uncut rubies – ebay.com 

Photo # 6 – Grandfather – OceansBridge.com 

Photo # 7 – Antique pocket chronometer – christies.com