Friday, March 02, 2007

When Did They Have...?

Clock with hour hand only, Rouen, France

When I'm trying to imagine the daily lives of my ancestors, there is a regularly occurring stumbling block. For lack of a better term, I'll call it "when-itis." As I begin to write about one of the wealthy farmers in the village proudly displaying his pendulum clock to impress my great-great grandfather, I'm suddenly wary. When was the pendulum clock invented? Would such a clock have been available for purchase in the 19th century? Nagged by doubts, I have two choices. I can spend awhile checking the Internet and reference books. Or I can write that the wealthy farmer showed my great-great grandfather his new ox.

An article in "Der Blumenbaum," the quarterly magazine of the Sacramento (California) German Genealogical Society was a happy find. It gave a timeline, going back to the first century AD, of important events, including many inventions. This list will eliminate a few guesses for me. I will be able to use that pendulum clock idea after all.

1284, the first wearable eyeglasses were invented in Italy.

1300's, the first mechanical clocks appeared, like the massive one-handed clock which still tells the hour in Rouen in Normandy.

1400's, playing cards became popular in Europe.

1500's, Latin began to decline as the language of books, in favor of the vernacular. The German practice of decorating Christmas trees was well established.

1565, the potato, which originated in the Americas, was introduced to Europe.

1580's, pockets in trousers were introduced.

1600's, toothbrushes were becoming common in Europe.

1608, the telescope was developed.

1632, the slide rule was invented

1639, what is thought to have been the first Christkindlmarkt took place in Nürnberg

1656, the pendulum clock was invented.

1660's, the first regularly published newspapers appeared in Germany and England.

1670, clocks with second hands were developed.

1709, the pianoforte was invented.

1760, the first jigsaw puzzle was created.

1783, hot air balloons appeared and this led to the first manned flight.

1791, a process for producing cheap soap was invented.

1800's, there was a widespread use of pocket watches and more general concern for punctuality.

1800's, multi-tined forks were becoming common.

1802, an improved strain of sugar beets was used to produce sugar for the first time.

1805, self-igniting matches were invented (but were extremely dangerous until friction matches were developed in 1827)

1806, gas lighting was introduced in European cities; and carbon paper was invented.

1817, in German, Karl von Drais invented the Laufmaschine, a forerunner to the bicycle.

1820, cloth began replacing leather for book casings.

1829, the first reliable locomotive was developed, marking the beginning of commercial railroads.

1835, the first German railroad ran from Nürnberg to Fürth, approximately four miles.

1840's, brass bands became popular in Germany.

1843, a London artist printed the first Christmas cards.

1849, the safety pin was patented.

1850, telegraphic cable connection was laid across the English Channel.

And last but certainly not least (for someone who can't imagine life without them) potato chips were created in Saratoga Springs, New York in 1853.

SOURCE: "A Timeline for Americans of German Descent," DER BLUMENBAUM, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 130-136


  1. For research purposes, I've wondered when/whether these sources were available in Germany (and/or in Europe):

    - City directories that list addresses and occupations

    - Newspapers that reached the smaller towns and middle class (or working class)

    - Tax polls and similar annual listings

    - Registers of Deeds for land transactions

    Of course, all these resources suppose that, by some period, Europe had developed a multi-level society with a land-owning middle class and a literate working class.

  2. Hi Tom,

    You are asking some big questions, especially since Germany was made up of Prussian and Bavaria as well as other small states up until 1871. Data collection probably varied. To date I have not come across city directories although most of my research is in small villages - larger cities may have had them. Newspapers like the Trier'sche Zeitung did reach the villages by stagecoach mail - if someone subscribed. I would guess that if the town had a Gasthaus with a sort of tap room, a newspaper subscription would have drawn potential readers who drank and discussed. I have seen one article from 2 September 1838 reproduced in a local history. Definitely there were tax polls and land registries, most of which are now held by archives like the State Archive in Koblenz and its branches - if you want Rhineland information.