The first Black Forest clocks preceding the cuckoo clocks were rather primitive, using wooden toothed wheels and simple stones as weights. A piece of wood, called a "Waag", acted as a pendulum by moving backwards and forwards above the clock dial. In time, the clock designs and craftsmanship were improved with the adoption of new ideas, tools and skills. People also began specializing on certain aspects of clock making and professions such as carvers, case makers, painters and manufacturers of chains and toothed wheels came into being.
The first cuckoo clock dates back to the 1730s and was a product of the almost hundred years of clock making tradition in the Black Forest region. There are a number of different accounts, which tell conflicting stories about the origin of this timepiece. The most popular one generally related today credits the invention of the first cuckoo clock in about 1738 to Franz Anton Ketterer, a clock-master from the small Black Forest village of Schönwald near Triberg. Inspired by the technology in use for church-organs, Ketterer designed the system of small bellows and whistles that imitates the cuckoos call. The first model of a cuckoo clock was a lavishly decorated, painted wooden clock. It was composed of an almost square board for the clock face and a raised semicircle on top of the oblong. The cuckoo was located behind a small door in the semicircle.
Soon other clock makers in the Black Forest region began creating finely handcrafted cuckoo clocks of many styles with rich and varied carvings. The former wooden gears were also replaced with metallic clockworks, which increased the accuracy of the timepieces. By the middle of the 19th century two principal cuckoo clock forms had emerged. The framed clock had a strong wooden frame and a wide painted inner section to which the clock face was attached. It was customary to paint the wooden background with a typical Black Forest scene. The bird was situated in the upper section of the decorated surface and was occasionally included in the other decorative scenes. The railway house clock had a basic house-shaped form consisting of an isosceles triangle placed on top of a rectangle or a square. This type of clock was originally adorned simply with carved or painted ivy leaves or flowers that one would find outside a typical railway house in Germany at the time. After a while, the embellishments multiplied to include scenes from everyday life from the Black Forest.
The railway house clock form, called Bahnhäusleform in German, essentially represents the model from which most modern Black Forest cuckoo clocks originate. Today the casing of a cuckoo clock is conventional and is usually designed in...