Grandfather clocks History
KIENINGER CLOCK FACTORY
Some centuries ago, our ancestors went to bed with the last rays of sunlight and got up at cock-crow in the early morning. What gave them orientation was the course of nature, the changing of the seasons and the position of the sun. At the end of the 13th century, when the mechanical wheel clock was invented in a monastery, people did not know that this invention should lead to a completely different consciousness of time in the centuries to follow.
With the beginning of the industrialization, the clock was setting the pace. Just as the wheels of a clock movement work together converting the clock pulse into motion, the working people had to adapt to the machines and work as precisely as a clock. The clock was an instrument to measure working time and efficiency. Speed and piece rates determined the daily work.
Nowadays, the beat of time is even faster: We accelerate by doing several things at the same time. We talk on the telephone whilst surfing the worldwide web. Endlessly blinking displays that show us the time are chasing us through our daily routine. Time has become a short and precious resource. Doesn’t in this high-speed society a wall or table clock seem like a needless relict from a long time ago? But maybe we gain time by pausing for a moment and withdrawing from the time pressure of the presence. The unhurried ticking of a clock creates a homelike atmosphere that makes us relax and enjoy time again.
The combination of precious materials, exclusive design and technical precision make it possible to create tasteful and elegant living accessories of a lasting value. They combine sophisticated technical knowledge with aesthetic pleasure and let us experience “Time in its most beautiful shape”. A slogan which has been valid for the Kieninger clocks for 100 years now. Kieninger is the eldest existing German manufacturer for mechanical clocks.
THE FOUNDING YEARS
The time has come – the founding years
When Joseph Kieninger made the first entry in his cash registry on 1st of June 1912 with an investment of 1.400 Reichsmark, he paved the way for an impressive company history. After his apprenticeship as a clockmaker he had been working for the company Tobias Bäuerle in St. Georgen where he had even become plant manager. But the meanwhile 40 years old man finally wanted to be his own master.
Thus, he took the chance to found his own company in Mönchweiler near St. Georgen. There, he built technical drives and timers which were mainly needed for gas lamps to light the street these days. Unskilled workers, mostly farmers from nearby, produced the parts, skilled workers assembled the movements.
Right from the beginning, Joseph Kieninger placed very special emphasis on the highest quality, a feature that is typical for the whole company history. Not one single movement left the company without being inspected by himself. The reliability and quality of the products led to a fast growing demand. In January of 1913, Kieninger employed 18 workers, already.
Benefiting from waiting
Soon however, the premises in Mönchweiler became too small. An expansion was not possible. Thus, in the middle of the First World War, Joseph Kieninger decided to go to Prague in order to look for new premises. At that time, Prague was still part of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy and an important center of the clock industry. Mönchweiler – Prague, the way led through Aldingen. One summer morning in 1917, Joseph Kieninger was waiting there for his train to Prague, but in vain – because the train did not arrive. However, he resolutely used the involuntary stay and had a look-around near the train station.
Only 200 meters away from the station in the “Saarstraße” he discovered a suitable building for his upcoming company. The site was big enough for possible expansions and the noble house had enough space for the eight children of the family who were meanwhile all helping in the company.
On the top of the time – the Twenties
Instead to Prague, the family now moved to the close and peaceful village between the Black Forest and the Swabian Alb. In 1921 they started to produce clocks in the new factory. This business area should become more and more important for Kieninger. The business was booming so that in 1927 a factory expansion with an additional building had to be built.
The economic success of their hard work allowed the family Kieninger to buy their first car in 1929. The proud founder of the company can be seen together with his three sons and his son-in-law Eugen Neps on a picture with the new Opel car.
The art of precision
Like his brothers Fritz and Josef, Wilhelm Kieninger was working in the family company. Josef was a salesman, Fritz a mechanic and Wilhelm apprenticed as a precision mechanic. His masterpiece, constructed in 1930 at the clockmaker school in Schwenningen, was the cornerstone for the current H-series, the lead product of the house. Refined and with additional features, but basically unchanged, this high-precision movement is still produced today. The invention of this movement for grandfather clocks made Kieninger the specialist for movements with quarter chime. Even at that time, the movement had an automatic strike regulation. It was protected by patent in 1931.
As a real inventor and fiddler, Wilhelm Kieninger met any clock making challenge of craftsmanship precision with a lot of passion. Thanks to him and until today Kieninger clocks and movements are incorporating a lot of technical and horological specialties.
Keeping up with the times
By the end of the twenties the original house had become too small for the growing family Kieininger. Therefore, they built a prestigious new house with enough space for several generations on the company premises in 1931. People called it „Villa Kieninger“ because it was a most modern building with big windows and a bath.
In 1932 Kieninger started to produce precision measuring instruments for the company Carl Mahr in Esslingen. The tolerances for these instruments had to be much more exact, which was very useful for the production of clock movements. A parts production with utmost precision made the assembly of the clock movements much easier: The individual parts do not have to be fitted anymore and thus could be mounted by unskilled workers, too. The new branch enabled the company to survive during the Second World War. As precision measuring instruments were needed for the arms industry, Kieninger was ranked as war vital industry.
After their father’s death in 1936 Wilhelm Kieninger and his two brothers Josef and Fritz took over the general management. With the intervention of Carl Mahr he could come back after only two months at the front line in 1939. Because of that the production could be kept up in spite of all the difficult conditions.
In 1939 the company employed 78 people, among these 18 women. Out of the 60 men 29 were called upon – 8 of them did not return from the war or imprisonment. Kieninger tried to compensate that loss with the help of home-workers and mandatory employment of women. In addition working hours were raised. Whilst the working time before the war was at 48 hours a week, it was raised to 54 hours at the beginning of the war and even further to 60 hours later.
Until 1941 the company was allowed to produce and sell clocks for the German market. And even until 1943 clocks were delivered abroad, mainly to Northern Europe. The general management proudly noted down in their records that – despite of several difficulties like electricity and materials shortage – the company was always able to meet its obligations for delivery even during the war.
ECONOMIC BOOM TIME
The economic boom time “Wirtschaftswunder”
In the first few years after the war there was a lack of everything, not only of living space but also of food, tools and material. But after the currency reform in 1948 things finally started to become better. The economy gradually recovered. As part of the recovery program in the 50’s more than half a million new flats were built every year. People were in need of furniture – and clocks, of course.
The first catalogue after the war showed a lot of talent for improvisation. Pictures of the clock models were glued in, the corresponding texts were handwritten. A simple kitchen clock was offered at a price of 3, 50 DM. The prices for pendulum clocks were between 16, 90 DM and 39, 50 DM. The catalogue of the year 1952 was multilingual, already. Clocks and movements were exported to more than 50 countries and by 1960 Kieninger employed more than 150 workers.
The catalogue of 1962 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary showed some kitchen clocks in pastel colors, clocks of modern design and the first battery operated movement. Moreover, the rope clock presented at the clock fair was an absolute novelty.
To retain and attract staff at the beginning of the 60s the company had several houses with flats built for their employees.
In the 60s the next generation joined the company. Gottfried Kieninger, Josef Kieninger’s son, took over the commercial management in 1962, Wilhelm Kieninger’s son Gerhard Kieninger, took over the engineering and his brother Rudolf joined the company in 1969. After apprenticing as a clockmaker he had gained working experience in Switzerland for 6 years and was now the responsible product manager for the clock business.
In 1975 the company had 200 employees. Gottfried Kieninger could report about an extraordinarily successful business year 1974 at the employees meeting. However, the general economic situation started to change in 1975. For the first time after the boom years in the 50s there were more than 1 million unemployed people. The Federal Republic experienced the worst economic crisis of its existence. The era of full employment came to an end. Furthermore, due to worldwide economic problems, Kieninger had to reduce the production of precision measuring instruments. They decided to concentrate on the clock sector instead, but without knowing which fate the clock industry would meet in the future.
The company still focused on refining the mechanical clock movements. They worked on improving the run accuracy and the maintaining power. But a precise measurement of time required an elaborate precision engineering with high-quality materials and was respectively expansive. In the 1970’s, when the new quartz clocks were introduced, precise time measurement suddenly was available cheaply.
All of a sudden, the art of clock-making was not needed anymore for accuracy and mechanical clocks were out. Most of the clock manufacturers of the Black Forest followed the trend and decided to produce quartz clocks. However, when cheap products from the Far East flooded the market in 1975 a lot of these companies had to file for bankruptcy. Today, only a few companies are left which produce mechanical clock movements.
Kieninger survived the crisis year 1976 by starting the production of electronic precision measuring instruments for the company Feinprüf in Göttingen.
At the same time the company stuck to its original concept and kept producing technically demanding mechanical movements and clocks of the highest quality. Visible result was the introduction of the HT-caliber chain movement with Westminster chime on tube gongs in 1975.
In 1976 the „Vienna Laterndl” cable regulator – a high-quality regulator that was following the design of the originals – was introduced at the fair in Basel. This masterpiece of German clock craft was a big success. Within quite a short period of time 1000 pieces of it were manufactured and sold all over world.
The new cable movement which had been invented for that model was of special design, since the weights no longer hung on traditional chains but from bronze cables and cable pulleys. Such cable movements were also used for some other regulators and found many customers, especially in the USA. Still today cable movements are made in substantial quantities and are used in Kieninger grandfather and wall clocks.
As a special innovation Kieninger was able to present a movement with 9 bell chime for playing 3 melodies in 1977, which until today only Kieninger produces in series. The bells are produced by hand on a diamond lathe and carefully tuned until there is a harmonious chord progression of the bell chime.
The change of management in the 3rd generation was overshadowed by a terrible family tragedy in 1982: Gerhard Kieninger, who had been responsible for the development of clock movements, was killed in a car accident at the age of 46. The senior partner Josef Kieninger died in 1984. Only one year later, Wilhelm Kieninger who was still working in the movement research of the company died, too. Gottfried und Rudolf Kieninger now shared the company management.
In 1985 with the J-Kaliber Kieninger introduced the world’s smallest triple chime movement at the fair in Basel. The invention of this movement made it possible to use the same features in table and wall clocks that had so far only been used in grandfather clocks. The company had to invest in modern tools and machines in order to realize the production of this movement.
When the company celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1987 – by that time 70% of the clock movement production was exported to the USA – the next crisis had to be handled. The slump of the dollar led to a dramatic decline in prices. Because of that, the most important market was in danger of a collapse. Numerous companies had already gone bankrupt when the quartz technology appeared. But in 1988 only 166 companies out of 280 in 1970 were still existing.