The Curious History of Germany’s Cuckoo Clock

Cuckoo clock
Cuckoo clock | © Hans / Pixabay
Anwesha Ray

Cuckoo clocks are easily the most favorite souvenirs for travelers to bring home from Germany (especially the Black Forest). Indeed, cuckoo clocks have graduated from being a souvenir to becoming a cultural icon of the country. They are available in thousands of various sizes, shapes, styles, and prices. Let’s go back in history and find out how these beautiful timepieces came into existence.

The first mentions of the cuckoo clock

The exact time and circumstances of the invention of the cuckoo clock are unclear and a matter of debate. However, the very first mention of cuckoo clocks dates back to 1619, in the inventory of the Prince Elector August of Saxony in Dresden. In 1629, German nobleman Philipp Hainhofer described a cuckoo clock that belonged to Prince Elector August von Sachsen.

In 1650, legendary German scholar Athanasius Kirche described the mechanism of a cuckoo in his book Musurgia Universalis. Kirche had no role to play in the invention of the cuckoo—he was merely documenting facts. The first known reference of the cuckoo as a device for telling time is in the book Horologi Elementari, written by Domenico Martinelli in 1669.

Black Forest cuckoo clocks

The design that changed everything: the Bahnhäusle style

Robert Gerwig, the director of the Baden Grand-Ducal Clockmaking School in Furtwangen, hosted a clock-designing contest in 1850. The entry by architect Friedrich Eisenlohr consisted of a standard railroad guard’s residence made of unstained-wood, fitted with a clock dial. The model was adorned with symmetrical fretwork and grapevines. This original idea was vastly appealing and went on to become a prototype of the house-shaped cuckoo clocks we see and love today.

The original design of the Bahnhaeuseluhr, drawing by Friedrich Eisenlohr (left), 1850-1851, realized by Kreuzer, Glatz and Co., Furtwangen, 1853-1854, Inv. 2003-081

The first cuckoo clocks of the Black Forest

Though many natives of the Black Forest like to believe that the cuckoo clock was invented by a brilliant local, evidence suggests that cuckoo clocks, albeit in a form different from its modern avatar, existed elsewhere in the country long before they found their way to the Black Forest. However, the credit for innovating the cuckoo clock to the stylized work of art as it is today does, indeed, go to the Black Forest.

Nobody knows for certain how cuckoo clocks came to be produced in the Black Forest or exactly when. Some theories suggest that by the late 17th century, farmers in the region had learned to make cuckoo clocks out of wood collected from the forest in order to supplement their earnings in colder months. While this can’t be proven, there is enough evidence to suggest that by the mid-18th century, several clock-makers in the Black Forest were adept in hand-carving wooden cuckoo clocks. However, cuckoo clock production remained a small and niche segment for the next couple of centuries.

One of the very first cuckoo clocks from the Black Forest, on display at Deutsches Uhrenmuseum

Over the centuries, the production of cuckoo clocks in the Black Forest has evolved with rapid technological developments as well as demand, but clock-makers from the region still strive to maintain the same authenticity and workmanship displayed by their ancestors.

Cuckoo clock in Ravenna Gorge
landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article