A pendulum clock is a clock that uses a pendulum, a swinging weight, as its timekeeping element. The advantage of a pendulum for timekeeping is that it is a harmonic oscillator; it swings back and forth in a precise time interval dependent on its length, and resists swinging at other rates. From its invention in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens until the 1930s, the pendulum clock was the world's most precise timekeeper, accounting for its widespread use.Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries pendulum clocks in homes, factories, offices and railroad stations served as primary time standards for scheduling daily life, work shifts, and public transportation, and their greater accuracy allowed the faster pace of life which was necessary for the Industrial Revolution.
The pendulum clock was invented in 1656 by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, and patented the following year. Huygens contracted the construction of his clock designs to clockmaker Salomon Coster, who actually built the clock. Huygens was inspired by investigations of pendulums by Galileo Galilei beginning around 1602. Galileo discovered the key property that makes pendulums useful timekeepers: isochronism, which means that the period of swing of a pendulum is approximately the same for different sized swings.Galileo had the idea for a pendulum clock in 1637, which was partly constructed by his son in 1649, but neither lived to finish it.The introduction of the pendulum, the first harmonic oscillator used in timekeeping, increased the accuracy of clocks enormously, from about 15 minutes per day to 15 seconds per day leading to their rapid spread as existing 'verge and foliot' clocks were retrofitted with pendulums.
These early clocks, due to their verge escapements, had wide pendulum swings of up to 100°. In his 1673 analysis of pendulums, Horologium Oscillatorium, Huygens showed that wide swings made the pendulum inaccurate, causing its period, and thus the rate of the clock, to vary with unavoidable variations in the driving force provided by the movement. Clockmakers' realization that only pendulums with small swings of a few degrees are isochronous motivated the invention of the anchor escapement around 1670, which reduced the pendulum's swing to 4°-6°.The anchor became the standard escapement used in pendulum clocks. In addition to increased accuracy, the anchor's narrow pendulum swing allowed the clock's case to accommodate longer, slower pendulums, which needed less power and caused less wear on the movement. The seconds pendulum (also called the Royal pendulum), 0.994 m (39.1 in) long, in which each swing takes one second, became widely used in quality clocks. The long narrow clocks built around these pendulums, first made by William Clement around 1680, became known as grandfather clocks. The increased accuracy resulting from these developments caused the minute hand, previously rare, to be added to clock faces beginning around 1690.
During the Industrial Revolution, daily life was organized around the home pendulum clock. More accurate pendulum clocks, called regulators, were installed in places of business and used to schedule work and set other clocks. The most accurate, known as astronomical regulators, were used in observatories for astronomy, surveying, and celestial navigation. Beginning in the 19th century, astronomical regulators in naval observatories served as primary standards for national time distribution services.From 1909, US National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) based the US time standard on Riefler pendulum clocks, accurate to about 10 milliseconds per day. In 1929 it switched to the Shortt-Synchronome free pendulum clock before phasing in quartz standards in the 1930s.With an error of around one second per year, the Shortt was the most accurate commercially-produced pendulum clock.
Pendulum clocks remained the world standard for accurate timekeeping for 270 years, until the invention of the quartz clock in 1927, and were used as time standards through World War 2. The French Time Service used pendulum clocks as part of their ensemble of standard clocks until 1954 The home pendulum clock began to be replaced as domestic timekeeper during the 1930s and 1940s by the synchronous electric clock, which kept more accurate time because it was synchronized to the oscillation of the electric power grid.