Making Watches by Machinery
This is an article we found in the July
issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine
It tells the story of the new
factory at Elgin Illinois and adds some other interesting
information. I have placed the pictures in place where they appeared
in the text, but I made them a link so you don't have to wait for
them to load if you are interested in the text only.
"WHAT o'clock is it?" asked Emanuel Swedenborg, upon his deathbed. Being told, he answered, "It is well; I thank you; may God bless you;" and the pure spirit of the venerable teacher gently passed away. "What o'clock is it?" ask little children, as they blow off the feathered seed-vessels of the dandelion, and tell the hour by the number that remain upon the stalk.
Civilized man every where, from the cradle to the grave, repeats this question oftener than any other. Were all things at rest it could never be answered. Motion alone enables us to measure time. Motion is best exemplified in the heavenly bodies, particularly the sun. Yet man, "the tool-making animal," never asks, "What o'sun?" but simply "What o'clock?" He has brought artificial timekeepers to such perfection that they are the most wonderful of his mechanical achievements, the things most alive and human in the entire range of his handiwork. Primitive man had little need of clocks or watches. The opening and closing of flowers; the voices of birds, beasts, and insects; the position of sun, moon, and stars, told the passage of time with accuracy enough for his simple life. Mariners, hunters, shepherds, and all other men much alone with nature, still keep familiar with her habits and her moods. The Indian says, "Four moons have passed," or "It was ten sleeps ago;" and the farmer, "It was between day and sunrise," or "It was half an hour by sun."
Job's expression, "As a servant earnestly desireth the shadow," points to the earliest artificial timekeeper. The sundial (dialis, daily) originated, nobody knows when, with some of the Eastern nations. Isaiah wrote, eight hundred years before Christ, "I will bring back the shadow of the degrees which is gone down in the sundial of Ahaz ten degrees backward." A dial, usually standing upon a stone post on a sunny knoll, is still preserved as a relic of the past in almost every English country churchyard. Around it on Sunday mornings, an hour or two before service, were wont to gather the rustics, discussing crops, the weather, and politics, while matrons gossiped soberly, and children tumbled in leapfrog over mossy tombstones, or played ball against the tower, till the parson's tinkling bell summoned all to worship.
In clear weather the dial showed the hour by day, as the stars did by night; but when clouds came something more was needed. Hence the East originated the "Clepsydra" (the " Water Stealer"), a transparent, graduated vase filled with liquid, which slowly trickled or stole away through a little aperture in the bottom. The receding height marked the passage of the hours. The clepsydra was used in ancient China, and in Egypt under the Ptolemies. Caster found it among the native Britons. Pompeii introduced it into Roman courts " to prevent babbling." One of Martial's epigrams counseled a dull declaimer, who was constantly quaffing from a glass of water during his endless harangue, to relieve both himself and his audience by drinking from the clepsydra instead. The Clepsydra
In the Colony of Massachusetts Bay two centuries ago an hour-glass stood before the Puritan preacher, and was turned by a tithing-man when he began his sermon. lf he stopped long before the sand ran out, his bearers were dissatisfied; if he continued long after, they grew impatient. Hour Glass
The hour-glass is only a modification of the clepsydra. It substitutes fine sand for water, as something which will neither freeze nor evaporate, and which, when the glass is full, will run little faster than when it is nearly. empty. It was known before the Christian era, and has been used by nearly all nations. It was so common among our ancestors a hundred years ago that the illustration which we copy from the New England Primer of 1777 was drawn from one of the most familiar objects in their daily life.
In dry, equable Eastern climates the clepsydra long maintained its supremacy, and it is used in India even to this day. It was exceedingly inaccurate, but improvements were constantly added. Sometimes water flowed in tears from the eyes of automata, and sometimes a floating statue rising and falling with the liquid pointed to the passing hours engraved upon an upright scale. Next, a little wheel was introduced, on which the water fell drop by drop, turning it, and thus communicating motion to hands upon a dial. In time machinery was inserted to tell not only the hours of the day, but the age of the moon, and the motions of other heavenly bodies; and finally the clepsydra grew into an ingenious and complicated waterclock, A thousand years ago a Persian caliph, the Haroun-al-Raschid of the Arabian Nights, sent one to the Emperor Charlemagne which had a striking apparatus. When the twelve hours were completed twelve doors opened in its face; and from each rode an automaton horseman, who waited till the striking was over, and then rode back again, closing the door after him.
"Clock" originally signified "bell, " and the French cloche still retains that meaning. The invention is claimed for many different peoples and eras, from the Chinese two thousand years before Christ down to the Germans of eight centuries ago. The first general use of clocks was in monasteries, during the eleventh century. Before their appearance the sacristan sat up to watch the stars that he might waken the monks at the hours of prayer. The common people attributed their origin to the devil; and had any body outside of the religious orders incurred