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A Brief History of the Cuckoo Clock

Механическая кукушка 1650 cuckoo clock

Quick Guide Through the Interesting Background of the Intricate Timepieces Cuckoo Clocks have a history almost as colorful as the clocks themselves.  The tradition of the clocks goes back hundreds of years and is steeped in German charm, innovation, and craftsmanship.


Cuckoo Clocks originated, and are still produced, in the Black Forest Region of Germany. The mythical forest that spawned countless fairytales also gave rise to the famed clocks. The earliest known coocooclock dates to 1619 but there is evidence to suggest the tradition may be older.

Ранние часы с кукушкой 1760-1780

The iconic cuckoo call started appearing in clocks around this time and probably appeared in other mechanical products as well. But by the 1670’s that call was firmly associated with cuckoo clocks.
During the early rise of the clocks there were three famed makers:

  • Franz Anton Ketterer
  • Michael Dilger,
  • Matthäus Hummel

It is widely believed these makers are responsible for the cuckoo’s clocks success during the early 1700’s.  But the clocks that lined the walls of these maker’s shops were not the ones we picture today.  They were varied and no signature “style” had yet emerged.

Железнодорожная станция 1850 cuckoo clock

The cuckoo clock we picture today rose to fame in the 1800’s thanks to the success of the Bahnhäusle clock.  This clock style showcases a house, just like the Chalet style clocks today.

However, early models featured a railway signalman’s house.  

After this style rose in popularity, clocks with houses, carvings and woodland scenes became the signature style of the kookoo.

Clock Production

Cuckoo clocks have always been handmade and hand carved by highly trained clockmakers.

Today, that is still the case.

Modern cuckoo clock makers are just as dedicated to their craft as the first makers from centuries ago.

Still today,

...cuckoo clocks produced in the Black Forest must meet the highest of quality standards.  

Лес кукушки Август шве cuckoo clock

Here are a few interesting facts about the way these intricate clocks are put together: 

  • Teamwork:
    The clocks are handmade, but not by just one set of hands. Typically, an entire team works together to create the artful timepieces. Each person has their own set of skills.

    When the final clock is assembled all the details and mechanical parts must work in unison. 

Скупка часов cuckoo clock
  • Years in the Making:
    This is an interesting tidbit that most people don’t know. The wood that will eventually create the carvings for a cuckoo clock is actually selected years before the clock is made. That’s because Linden wood, the wood that is typically carved for cuckoos, must be cut and dry for years before it can be carved.

    Only the best cuts of wood that are perfectly dried will be selected for carvings. The carvings usually decorate the front part of the clock and the roof. Any figures that appear on the cuckoo clock are hand carved and painted, as well.

  • The Mechanics:
    The last step of the process is creating the mechanical movements of the clock. Black Forest clockmakers build the mechanics right into to the clock. Things like clock hands, cuckoo bird, and any moving figurines all make of the mechanical components.

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    Modern Cuckoo Clocks

    When most people picture the cuckoo clock of today they usually think of the carvings and the cuckoo call.  Here are a few other things you should realize about the modern cuckoo clock: 

    • All Mechanical: Even today the inner workings of the Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks are controlled by weights and chains.  From the bellows of the cuckoo call to the actual timed movement of the hands—no electricity is required.

    • Quartz, battery operated clocks are available but are not considered authentic or traditional. However, they are a bit more affordable and still charming for any room of the house.

    • Types: There are many types to choose from, Chalet and Carved are the most traditional “looking” but clocks, but cuckoo clocks can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  There has been a modern revolution of sorts and the handmade clocks can now take many shapes!  The more traditional designs still include woodland scenes, dancers, lumberjacks, revelers drinking beer, water mills turning, and styles of German music.

    Весовые часы с кукушкой cuckoo clock

      There is a cuckoo clock out there that will fit the taste and style of any home. Just make sure the quality is high and the traditions of the clockmakers are intact.

      Linden Wood is a great material for carving cuckoo clocks

      Linden wood is very popular among the German carving atmosphere. With Germany being popularly known as the cuckoo clock carvers of the world it is important that a person is informed about the history and background of the wood that cuckoo clocks are carved out of.

      Lindenwood trees are also known as basswood. They are members of the Tilia Genus and are native to the eastern two-thirds of North America.  Found throughout California due to its perfect climate. This species of tree is the most common species in California nurseries.

      Linden Wood Cuckoo Clocks

       However, even though some trees are grown in California, there is an European Linden wood tree. This tree was known as being Great Britain's tallest broad-leafed tree. They added a fashion to the gardens of those who were upper class during the 17/18th centuries. These trees were imported from the Netherlands during this period.  Despite being imported from the Netherlands; the name linden comes from the word linde in German which means rope. This is the trees name due to the inner bark which was used to make mats and ropes.

      Lindenwood trees are known as a medium-sized shade tree. Average height is around 50 feet, but they can grow to double their average size. When the tree is younger it will have a pyramid shape but when they start to develop a more rounded crown and straight trunk.

      Many people use linden wood to make furniture who like straight grain.

      Some people as well use it for medical uses. The oils from the tree are used to help stomach problems and anxiety.

      Many people in Germany use this wood specifically for their known trademark of German Cuckoo Clocks.

      Cuckoo Clocks Linden Wood

      Many German Cuckoo Clocks are made from the wood of the linden tree because of how soft the wood is.

      Little do many people know that the linden wood is purchased two years ahead of time, so it has time to age and become the beautiful color that the woodworker wants to use on a clock.

      Other woods may be used to accent the linden wood such as walnut and pine. These woods are used to add detail to the linden wood. To make the rest of cuckoo clock pop.

      Many times,

      ...the linden wood would be the main wood but sometimes depending the woodworker they may choose to use walnut and pine as the whole entire clock.

      For those woodworkers that use pine or walnut for the whole entire clock may be making cheaper clocks whereas the linden wood is softer and more beautiful that will last longer as well. Linden wood clocks are the most common type of clocks distributed from Germany.

      Linden wood is used in these clocks due to its beauty and how well it ages. With the sound coming from wood as well the Linden wood carries and makes a beautiful sound. The grain of this wood is straight which makes a clock beautiful. Not only is the grain straight it is a beautiful light color which holds stain and paint very well so that a cuckoo clock can be original.

      This wood is also very easy to clean which makes it a plus knowing that when one cleans their clock it will not be a problem or hassle.

      Linden wood, maple, and pine are the most common used woods when a cuckoo clock is made. All these woods are a softer wood which makes the woodworking process much easier. Each wood is carefully chosen depending on the clocks design.

      Some wood is better for certain designs compared to others. Most clocks however have a base of linden wood that is accented by the other types of woods.