University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The State of Wisconsin Collection

Page View

Batt, James R. (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 20, Number 4 (Fall 1974)

Baier, Joseph G.
Mathias Schwalbach: Milwaukee's master mechanic, inventor, and tower clock maker,   pp. 20-24


Page 24


  right after the other, at the
  second quarter two on each
  bell, at the third quarter three
  and at the fourth quarter four
  on each bell. The hour is
  struck on the large bell.
  The Star Clock Company, as
the manufactory came to be
known, made five different move-
ments, with variations to permit
e it h e r thirty-hour runs between
windings or to run for eight days.
Other variations in design permit-
ted the clocks to strike one or more
bells of differing weights and tones,
as well as to permit hour strike
only or to include quarter-hour
striking.
  All clock movements were large
and rugged because tower clocks
are ordinarily subject to the va-
garies of w eat h e r: temperature
changes, moisture (whether rain,
snow, or simply high humidity),
along with dust and dirt in the air.
Escape mechanisms must be de-
signed to overcome these adverse
situations if the clocks are to run
at all, let alone keep time. That
they do well as timekeepers is testi-
mony to their excellent design fea-
tures and construction. It is here
that Mathias Schwalbach made
some outstanding contributions to
the art and was awarded patents
for improvements in escapements.
  The three patents issued to
Schwalbach are of interest to the
general reader primarily to dem-
onstrate his innovative mechanical
capabilities. He had experiences
with the typewriter in designing
and patenting the plan of pivoting
the type bars in a circle, an ar-
rangement in use today, as well as
conceiving the spring motor, the
key buttons and levers, and the
means of connecting the latter with
the type bars. But these inventions
were performed as a member of a
team. The tower clock inventions
were his own c r e a t i o n s even
though he may have been encour-
aged by his earlier patents on the
typewriter and the sewing machine
to develop improvements for the
escapements of clocks.
  The first patent, granted on
November 10, 1974, No. 156,677,
is for an "Improvement in Clock
Escapements." The invention was
designed "to secure greater accura-
24
cy in the movement of the pendu-
lum ... by imparting a steady
motion to the pendulum." The sec-
ond patent, granted on September
7, 1880, No. 232,073, relates to
an improvement on the first. It is
for a "Clock Escapement." In the
patent Schwalbach states, "Hereto-
fore the motive power acted direct-
ly upon the pendulum with greater
or less force, according to the heft
of the weight . .. while in my
improvement the motive power
stands at rest while the pendulum
vibrates many times . . . " after
being impulsed. "The improvement
over the first patent, to achieve
this independence from the driving
force was to attach a triangular
escape wheel loosely to the shaft
yet coupling the escape wheel to
the shaft by means of a coiled
spring given a preset tension.
Using a set of levers, an impulse
is imparted to the pendulum by the
escape wheel" permitting "levers
to be brought to bear upon the
arm which imparts motion to the
pendulum rather than gradually
as in the original patent."
  A third patent granted February
18, 1890, No. 421,622, also for a
"Clock Escapement," relates to an
improvement on the second patent.
In this invention, "the motive pow-
er of the clock will be expended in
simply rewinding" a coil spring
at intervals, "said spring being
wound to exactly the same tension
previous to each impulse it im-
parts . . . " to the pendulum. "In
consequence of the above-describ-
ed operation the force applied to
the scape wheel is at all times
equal and independent of the . . .
heft of the weight that drives the
clock. "
  Many Schwalbach clocks are
still in daily use, some in their
original condition being wound
daily or weekly depending on the
movement type and the length of
available drop for the weight
cables. Often this depends on the
dedication of the clock-tender and
his ability to repair the mechanism
to keep it in good running order.
In most instances, however, the
winding mechanisms have been
electrified to make the clocks inde-
pendent of daily care. In others
the original movements have been
"... removing six years ago to the
building now occupied at 426 Ninth
Street, which he owns and built. It is
. . .made conspicuous by a tower and
clock."
completely disconnected and re-
placed with synchronous motors.
  From the list one can gain some
idea of the extent to which Mathias
was able to obtain orders for
clocks and to note the generally
wide distribution of his work. It
may be that the reader will have
additional information concerning
some of them. When the writer first
made inquiry concerning Mathias
Schwalbach the invariable answer
given referred to his work in devel-
oping the typewriter. It is hoped
that as a result of this a r t i c l e
Mathias Schwalbach will be recog-
nized properly for his more out-
standing work as an inventor of
escapements and builder of tower
clocks, a work carried out in his
own right for a period of over
forty years.
         *      *     *
   I wish to express my apprecia-
tion to Professor Gerhardt Rausch-
er of the University of Wisconsin-
Milwaukee for translating several
paragraphs from the German; to
Professor Frederick I. Olso, also
of the UWM, for suggesting sever-
al references to the development
of the typewriter; to August
Wagner, National Association of
Watch and Clock Collectors mem-
ber of Milwaukee, for making
available the copies of Milwaukee
of To-day and the Erinnerungs-
blaetter; to John Loehrer for the
copy of the Schwalbach catalog;
and to Elmer Schwalbach for the
photograph of Mathias.


Go up to Top of Page