Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Zahra. Zahra Wonders, “who made the cuckoo clock?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Zahra!

Do you know what time it is? It’s time for today’s timely Wonder of the Day! How do we know? A little birdie told us so!

Today we’re taking a look at a timepiece that’s both unique and interesting. It’s not digital. You can’t wear it on your wrist. You’ll usually find it hanging on the wall in a prominent place. What are we talking about? A cuckoo clock, of course!

Have you ever seen a cuckoo clock? If you have, you know that they can be very beautiful. Often, they’re made out of wood with intricate carvings on them. What sets them apart from other wooden clocks? It’s the little cuckoo bird that pops out of a door to sound off every hour, on the hour.

No one is sure exactly how the cuckoo clock came to be. One legend holds that they started with German clockmaker Franz Anton Ketterer. Some say he added a cuckoo bird to one of his clocks around the year 1730.

Another legend holds that they started with a Bohemian trader. Stories say he brought a couple of cuckoo clocks to Germany’s Black Forest region during his travels. Clockmakers in the area supposedly picked up on the design and ran with it. Some believe the first cuckoo clocks may have been made as early as the 1600s.

Whatever its origin, the cuckoo clock was popularized by the clockmakers of Germany’s Black Forest region in the early- to mid-eighteenth century. This area had already been famous for some time as a hub for horology--or, the art of clock making.

The Black Forest region has harsh winters and a large supply of wood. For many years, people there have been known for making all kinds of handmade wooden items, especially clocks. Cuckoo clocks, with their unique features, quickly became popular as traders sold them throughout Europe.

Engineers changed the style of cuckoo clocks over the years. Initially, these pieces were made with a “shield clock” design. These were open on the sides and allowed the mechanical movements to be seen.

Eventually, the “railway house style” became popular. It’s this type that most people think of when they imagine a Black Forest cuckoo clock. These intricate pieces looked a bit like railway guard houses. They included detailed carvings of all sorts of things, like birds, leaves, deer, hunting equipment, and small animals.

Other countries began to produce cuckoo clocks, adding their own unique features. For example, Swiss clockmakers developed the “Swiss Chalet” style cuckoo clock. These timepieces featured music and moving figures.

Have you ever seen a cuckoo clock? Would you like to have one in your home? What style would you want? Maybe you’d love to see what goes on inside the clock. If you’re an animal lover, you might like your clock to be covered in small wooden creatures! Whatever your preference, we bet there’s a cuckoo clock out there for you.


Wonder What's Next?

Rivers and bays are no match for tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day! Join us as we explore how to get to the other side.