Early electric clocks

In 1815, Francis Ronalds published the first electric clock powered by dry pile batteries. Alexander Bain, Scottish clockmaker, patented the electric clock in 1840. The electric clock's mainspring is wound either with an electric motor or with an electromagnet and armature. In 1841, he first patented the electromagnetic pendulum.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the advent of the dry cell battery made it feasible to use electric power in clocks. Spring or weight driven clocks that use electricity, either alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC), to rewind the spring or raise the weight of a mechanical clock would be classified as an electromechanical clock. This classification would also apply to clocks that employ an electrical impulse to propel the pendulum. In electromechanical clocks the electricity serves no time keeping function. These types of clocks were made as individual timepieces but more commonly used in synchronized time installations in schools, businesses, factories, railroads and government facilities as a master clock and slave clocks.

Electric clocks that are powered from the AC supply often use synchronous motors. The supply current alternates with a frequency of exactly 50 hertz in many countries, and 60 hertz in others. The rotor of the motor rotates at a speed that is exactly related to the alternation frequency. Appropriate gearing converts this rotation speed to the correct ones for the hands of the analog clock.

The development of electronics in the 20th century led to clocks with no clockwork parts at all. Time in these cases is measured in several ways, such as by the alternation of the AC supply, vibration of a tuning fork, the behaviour of quartz crystals, or the quantum vibrations of atoms. Electronic circuits divide these high-frequency oscillations to slower ones that drive the time display. Even mechanical clocks have since come to be largely powered by batteries, removing the need for winding.

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