Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

references in the Appendix to Tobler’s Die electrischen Uhren (Leipzig, 1883), and a list of books given by F. Hope Jones, Proc. Inst. Elec. Eng., 1900, vol. 29. The history of electrical clocks is a long and complicated matter, for there are some 600 or 700 patents for these clocks in Europe and America, some containing the germs of valuable ideas but most pure rubbish. All that can be done is to select one or two prominent types of each class and give a brief description of their general construction.

EB1911 - Clock - Fig. 27.—Turret Clock for Hidalgo.jpg
Fig. 27.—Turret Clock for Hidalgo, Mexico, driving four 8 ft. dials.
EB1911 - Clock - Fig. 28.jpg
Fig. 28. 

It is in the apparently simple matter of making and keeping the electrical contact that most of the systems of electrical time-keeping have failed, for want of attention to the essential conditions of the problem. In practice every metal is covered with a thin film of non-conducting oxide over which is another film of moisture, oil, dirt or air. Hence what is wanted is a good vigorous push of a blunted point or edge preferably obliquely upon a more or less yielding surface so as to get a rubbing action. Thus if the stiff spring a b (fig. 28) were stabbed down on the oblique surface C D a good contact would invariably result, provided that the metals employed were gold, platinum or some not easily oxidizable metal. Or again, if a mercury surface be simply touched with a pin, the slight sparking that is produced on making the current will soon form a little pile of dirty oxide at the point of entry, and the contact will frequently fail. If it be necessary to have a mercury contact, the pin must be well driven in below the surface of the mercury or else swept through it as an oar is swept through the water. Another form of electrical contact that acts well is a knife edge brought into contact with a series of fine elastic strips of metal laid parallel to one another like the fingers of a hand. The best metal for contacts, if they are to bear hard usage, is either silver or gold or a mixture of 40% iridium with 60% of platinum. A pressure of some 15 grammes, at least, is needful to secure a good contact.

As to the source of current for driving electrical clocks, if Leclanché cells be used they should preferably be kept in the open air under cover so as not to dry up. If direct electric current is available from electric light mains or the accumulators used for lighting a private house, so much the better. Of course the pressure of 50 or 100 volts used for lighting would be far too great for clock-driving, where only the pressure of a few volts is required. But it is easy by the insertion of suitable resistances, as for instance one or more incandescent lamps, to weaken down the pressure of the lighting system and make it available for electric clocks, bells or other similar purposes.

Electricity is applied to clocks in three main ways:—(1) in actuating timepieces which measure their own time and must therefore be provided with pendulums or balance wheels; (2) in reproducing on one or more dials the movements of the hands of a master clock, by the aid of electric impulses sent at regular intervals, say of a minute or a half-minute; and (3) in synchronizing ordinary clocks by occasional impulses sent from some accurate regulator at a distance.

EB1911 - Clock - Fig. 29.—Electrical Clock.jpg
Fig. 29.—Electrical Clock (faulty design).

Electrically driven timepieces may be divided under two heads:—(a) those in which the electric current drives either the pendulum or some lever which operates upon it, which lever or pendulum in turn drives the clock hands; and (b) those timepieces which are driven by a weight or spring which is periodically wound up by electricity—in fact electrical remontoires.

The simplest clock of the first character that could be imagined would be constructed by fastening an electromagnet with a soft iron core to the bottom of a pendulum, and causing it to be attracted as the pendulum swings by another electromagnet fixed vertically under it (fig. 29). As the pendulum approached the vertical and was say half an inch from its lowest point, the current would be switched on, and switched off as soon as the pendulum got to its lowest point. A very small attraction with this arrangement, probably about a grain weight, acting through the ½ in. would drive a heavy pendulum. A switch would have to be worked in connexion with the pendulum. A strip of ebonite with a small face of metal on the end of one side, such as a b (fig. 29) might be pivoted at one end on the pendulum with a weak spring to keep it where free along the rod. As the pendulum swung by this would be swept on its journey from left to right against a fixed pin P. This would complete the electric circuit down through the pendulum rod, round the coil on the bottom of the pendulum, through the switch into the pin P, thence through the fixed electromagnet, and so back to the battery. On the return journey no contact would be made because only the ebonite face of the switch would touch P. The pendulum would thus receive an impulse every other vibration. We have described this switch, not to advocate it, but to warn against its use. For the contact would be quite insufficient. In order that the switch might not unduly retard the pendulum it must be light, but this would make the pressure on P too light to be trustworthy. Moreover, the strength of the impulse would vary with the strength of the battery, and hence the arc would be repeatedly uneven.

EB1911 - Clock - Fig. 30.—Hipp Electrical Clock.jpg
Fig. 30.—Hipp Electrical Clock (Peyer, Favarger et Cie.).

In contrast with this, let us consider a clock that is now giving excellent results at the Observatory of Neuchatel in Switzerland on Hipp’s system (La Pendule électrique de précision, Neuchatel, 1884 and 1891). The pendulum (fig. 30) consists of two rods of steel joined by four bridges, one just below the suspension spring, the next about 12 in. lower, the next about half way down, and the last supporting a glass vessel of mercury which forms the bob. On the third of them is placed an iron armature,