Clockmakers were to be found among the Anabaptists and Mennonites through the centuries. Hutterites, especially in the large Bruderhof of Pribitz, manufactured clocks for church towers in 1572 and 1609 and clocks (even costing 170 talers) for the brother of Emperor Matthew and for the Cardinal Franz von Dietrichstein in 1613. The Moravian nobleman Albrecht von Boskowitz in 1571 instructed them to paint the necessary faces for a clock in his castle at Černá Hora.
In the Palatinate a century later we meet a whole dynasty of Mennonite clockmakers: two brothers of the well-known Martin and David Möllinger, viz., the famous Jacob Möllinger (1695-1763) in Neustadt an der Haardt and Joseph Möllinger (1715-72) in Zweibrucken (ducal clockmaker and master of the mint), also Jacob's son and grandson -- Johannes Möllinger at Fischbach, clockmaker to the Count of Wartenberg, and a second Jacob Möllinger at Kaiserslautern; likewise an Elias Möllinger who died 1854, also at Kaiserslautern.
Noteworthy is the famous Mennonite clockmaker, Peter Kinzing (1745-1816) of Neuwied on the Rhine, an unusually skillful and creative craftsman, whose artistic and special clocks were mechanical wonders, "most of which found their way into the French, Russian, Prussian, Saxon, Wurttemberg and other German courts." On the occasion of a trip to France he was made "clockmaker to the queen." The famous writing desks of David Röntgen owe a large share of their reputation to the clocks which Kinzing built into them.
The "Russian" or "Mennonite" clocks (Wanduhren or Werder Uhren) can still be found in some Mennonite homes in Canada, Mexico, South America, and in some of the prairie states. The Prussian Mennonites living along the Vistula River probably brought this clock with them from the Netherlands. Some of the clocks now found in Mennonite homes date back to the time when the Mennonites lived in Prussia prior to 1800. The most distinctive tradition in Mennonite clocks is found in the Kroeger wall clocks treasured by the Russian Mennonites in Europe and the Americas.
Kroeger clocks were first made in Rosental near Chortitza by Johann Kroeger (1754-1823), who arrived there from West Prussia in 1804. Kroeger's clockmaking descendants included Abraham (1791-1872); David (1829-1909); Peter (1832-1908); David D. (1860-1920), under whom production reached its peak; and Johann D. (1863-?), the last clockmaker, who moved the business to Dnjeprstrasse. The making of Kroeger clocks has been continued in the Americas by, among others, Cornelius Ens (1884-1960) of Edenberg, Saskatchewan, and John W. Peters (active 1980) in Mexico.
Another early manufacturer of these "Mennonite" clocks at the middle of the past century was Peter Lepp of Chortitza. At the beginning of the 20th century the most prominent manufacturers of these clocks were David Kroeger in the village of Rosenthal in the Chortitza settlement and Gerhard Mandtler of Lindenau in the Molotschna settlement, each of whom had a factory evaluated at about $5,000. The manufacturer C. Hildebrandt worked for years on a very complicated clock which included the days of the month and the planetary movements.
These clocks could be found in nearly every Mennonite home in Russia and after 1874 also in the prairie states and provinces in America in the grosse Stube (parlor) hanging on the wall next to the door leading into the Eckstube. The mechanism was usually simple, operated by one heavy and one light weight. A clock that struck the hour had two heavy and two light weights. The brass parts, weights, pendulum, and hands, were always kept shining. The face of the clock, made of tin or wood, was twelve inches square and usually bore a flower motif and the year of its construction. Most of the surviving clocks brought to Canada and the United States in the 1870s were still in running condition in the 1950s. For a time during the adjustment of the Mennonites to their American environment there was little appreciation for these heirlooms; today they are scarce and sought after by Mennonites of Canada, United States, Mexico, and South America.
Swiss-German Mennonites brought their renowned clockmaking skills to colonial Pennsylvania, where they made works for tall case clocks in the English style. Ira Landis and Stacy B. C. Wood have tentatively identified many Mennonite (but no Amish) clockmakers.
Among those working in eastern Pennsylvania, the most important are Jacob Godschalk (ca. 1735-1781) and brothers Benjamin (1740-?) and David (1732-1796) Rittenhouse. Apparently the Rittenhouse brothers, from Philadelphia, were not Mennonites themselves, but were the great-grandsons of William Rittenhouse, the first Mennonite preacher in Pennsylvania. From ca. 1755-1765 Godschalk made clocks in Towamencin Township, Montgomery County, after which he moved his shop to Philadelphia, where he, along with David Rittenhouse and others, was given responsibility for taking care of the clock in the Pennsylvania statehouse (Independence Hall). Godschalk apparently left the Mennonite church, becoming a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War. His stepson Griffith Owen (1773-1780) learned clock-making from Godschalk and became an important clockmaker in his own right. Three generations of Hege clockmakers also worked in eastern Pennsylvania, including Jacob Hege (active 1790-1820), who made over 100 clocks in Lower Salford Township, Montgomery County, and Samuel Hege (active 1820s to 1840s), who worked in Franconia and Germantown. Hendrich Heilig (?-1775) emigrated in 1720 from Hannover, Germany to Hanover Township, Montgomery County He was an uncle by marriage to David and Benjamin Rittenhouse.
Even more Mennonite clockmakers worked in Lancaster County Anthony W. Baldwin (1783-1867) of Lampeter learned clockmaking from his father-in-law Joseph Bowman, Sr. (?-1811), of New Holland and, in turn, taught clockmaking to John's son Joseph Bowman, Jr. (1799-1892), who was active in Strasburg until ca. 1850. John Erb (1814-ca. 1860) was an apprentice of Joseph Bowman, Jr., and worked in Conestoga Center. Christian Forrer (ca. 1737-1783) and Daniel Forrer (?-1780) were born in Switzerland and settled in Lampeter, where they made clocks for about 20 years, after which Christian moved to York County and Daniel (perhaps) to Virginia. Christian Huber (?-1789) worked in Reamstown; Isaac Hunchberger (1804-?) in West Earl; Jacob Hunsecker (1809?) in East Donegal Township; Elias Leinbach (active 1801-16) in Bowmansville; and John Leinbach (active 1792-1798) in Reamstown. Samuel C. Stauffer (1757-1825) of Manheim is known for clocks that strike on the quarter-hour. Isaac Witwer worked in New Holland, ca. 1850-1855.
The cabinetmakers who made the cases for these clocks are generally unknown, although apparently a Jacob Bachman occasionally made cases for A.W. Baldwin.
Gibbs, James W. "Religious Sect Clockmakers Part 1" National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors Bulletin 167 (December 1973): 44-47, and "Part 2" in vol. 168 (February 1974): 168-74.
Harms, James O. "The Mennonite Clockmakers of Prussia and Russia." Mennonite Historian XXXIV, 2 (June 2008): 1-2.
Hruby, F. Die Widertaufer in Mahren, Leipzig, 1935, 24 and 32/33.
Kroeger, Arthur. Kroeger Clocks. Steinbach, MB: Mennonite Heritage Village, 2012.
Wood, Stacy B. C. and Stephen E. Kramer. Clockmakers of Lancaster County and Their Clocks 1750-1850. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1977.
Cite This Article
Krahn, Cornelius and Ervin Beck. "Clocks." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 7 May 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Clocks&oldid=139672.
Krahn, Cornelius and Ervin Beck. (1989). Clocks. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 7 May 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Clocks&oldid=139672.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 629; v. 5, p. 166. All rights reserved.
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