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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for the Pendulum

Pendulums started out in clocks and were the most accurate way to measure time until the 1930’s.  The word pendulum is Latin for “pendulus” meaning hanging.  A pendulum is hung from a fixed point enabling it to swing freely back and forth due to gravity and inertia.

 Grandfather Clock Pendulum
Galileo first had the idea to invent a clock using a pendulum in 1602, but he never did and the world would have to wait another half century for the first pendulum clock, which was created by a Dutch scientist named Christiaan Huygens in 1665.  His clock was accurate to within one minute per day, but he later improved it to ten seconds a day.

Back in the first century the pendulum was used in seismometers to detect the direction of earthquakes.

 Pendulum in the Cathedral Metropolitan
In 1851 the pendulum was used to demonstrate the rotation of earth.  This was discovered by a man named Jean Bernard Leon Foucault.  Up to that point everyone depended on celestial observations.  For the next half century there was “pendulum mania” as Foucault pendulums were set up in several cities to show the rotation of the Earth.

By the 1930’s the pendulum gave way to the quartz clock.  Over the years pendulums have been made out of different materials and in different lengths.  Some clocks still use this method today, namely the grandfather clock and some mantel clocks.

 The pendulum clock in my house.  You'll notice the rubber band on the bottom.  This is to keep Raven out of there because he stops the clock playing with the pendulum.
But did you know that other uses evolved from the pendulum?  For instance, in religious practice the swinging incense burner called a censer, or thurible, is a version of the pendulum.

During the Spanish Inquisition in the Late Middle Ages, a pendulum device was also used to torture victims before killing them.  In place of the bob head usually found on a pendulum, an axe was attached. The victim would be strapped to a table while the axe swung back and forth gradually being lowered until it cleaved the victim’s torso.

 Divination pendulum
The pendulum is also used for divination and dowsing.  This is a way for getting answers to questions, such as identifying allergies, etc.  We learned a bit about this while living in California.  I’ve never seen anyone use one here for that purpose, but a lady surprised me a few weeks ago when she pulled a pendulum from her pocket to hold over one of my samples before she picked it up.  Like I said before, I’m surprised in the workplace sometimes.

In the old days, this was also a method for finding water.

Have any of you ever used a pendulum?


  1. Haven't used a pendulum, but I do remember the pendulum at one of the museums in Balboa Park in San Diego area. It would be set up to knock down blocks. Fascinating to watch.


    1. Betty,

      It's amazing what they can with things like this. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.


  2. Replies
    1. Jahnavi,

      Glad you found this bit of history interesting. Thanks for visiting me during the challenge.


  3. I have a pendulum clock as well. That's cute the way you put the rubber band on it . ha!

    1. Thea,

      If you had a cat you'd have to find some way to keep him out of it. He's very resourceful about doing things.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.


  4. I've done the pendulum thing. It's eerie. And I've seen a Foucault pendulum--one in a cemetery here in Long Beach.

    1. Liz,

      Pendulums can be mysterious objects, kind of like the Ouija board in a way. I've never seen a Foucault pendulum. I'd love to.

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.



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