Cuckoo clocks – The pride of the Black Forest

A cuckoo clock is a pendulum-regulated clock that strikes the hours with a cuckoo call, and has an automated cuckoo bird that pops out of the clock with each ring of the bell.

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The exact location and the inventor of the first cuckoo clock is unknown. In 1629, long before the Black Forest became an established center of clock making, Phillipp Hainhofer a nobleman from Augsburg, gave the first depiction of a modern cuckoo clock.

The clock was owned by the Prince Elector August von Sachsen.

Early cuckoo clock, Black Forest, 1760–1780 (Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Inv. 03-2002) Photo credit

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Eggenburg ( Lower Austria ). Krahuletz-Museum: Early cuckoo clock ( 1790s ) Photo credit

There is a story that has been told over the years, that a certain Franz Anton Ketterer invented the cuckoo clock in 1730. 

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However, the story isn’t true. The clock makers of the area didn’t come up with the idea of the cuckoo clock, but they certainly had a major influence in raising it’s popularity. The first clocks in this region were produced between 1740 and 1750. The earliest examples were shields decorated with paper.

Cuckoo clock, a so-called Jagdstück (Hunt piece), Black Forest, ca. 1900, Deutsches Uhrenmuseum Photo credit


The cuckoo mechanism hasn’t changed much since the first clocks were made. Design and appearance, on the other hand, have evolved. The traditional Black Forest design, called “Schilduhr” (Shield-clock), had a painted, wooden square face behind which the mechanism was attached.

The top of the square, where the door for the cuckoo bird was placed, was highly decorated. The design was popular in the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century.

Rahmenuhr by J. Laule depicting a scene of a Black Forest clockmaker’s shop. Furtwangen, ca. 1860 (Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Inv. 07-0068) Photo credit

Another type of clock, called the “Rahmenuhr” (Framed-clock), was being around the middle of the 19th century. Usually a Black forest theme was depicted on the clock although other scenes like love, death, religion were not uncommon. The small bird was a part of the painted scene.

Until the early 20th century, cuckoo clocks were made in a variety of styles. Neoclassical, renaissance, gothic, baroque styled clocks became a common addition of the living room.

Cardinal Cuckoo Clock, 126 1st Ave. Minneapolis MN Photo credit

However the appearance of the Bahnhäusleuhr (Railroad house clock) and it’s major popularity discontinued the production of other models after several decades. This model was designed by an architect called Friedrich Eisenlohr.

In 1850 the director of Baden Clockmakers school, organized a public competition for new clock designs. His idea became an instant hit among the members of the bourgeoisie. Eisenlohr’s “Wallclock with shield decorated by ivy vinesbecame a model for today’s popular cuckoo clocks.

Another style, called the “Chalet”, originated in Switzerland in the end of the 19th century. Clocks, music and jewelry boxes were made in the form of the Swiss chalet (a type of house) and at the time they were extremely valued as souvenirs.

wiss cuckoo clock in the shape of a Brienz chalet. Brienz (Switzerland, ca. 1900). Carved and painted wood. The movement with anchor escapement and cuckoo. Music box with eight melodies in the base. Dimensions: 52x32x54 cm Photo credit

Cuckoo clocks in Triberg im Schwarzwald Photo credit

Although cuckoo clocks are produced all around the globe today, the Black Forest’s artist are still recognized as the best in the world. Millions of clocks are made every year and customers from all around the globe collect them. Collections of cuckoo clocks can be seen at the Cuckooland Museum in London and Deutches Uhrenmuseum and Dorf-und Uhrenmuseum Gutenbach in Germany. A private collection that contains more than 300 pieces is located in the United States. It is one of the largest collections of cuckoo clocks in the world.