Featured Clocks

This first series in our virtual collection of historical clocks features nearly two centuries of artistic and technical achievements by Mennonite clockmakers. The history of each clock, some of which are on view until April 2019 at the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach, Manitoba, has been drawn from archival material meticulously collected and assembled by the late Arthur Kroeger.

Photographs that include details of the clock interiors illustrate the fine inner workings of these treasured heirlooms.


Werder Clock, ca. 1815 (MC0008)

‘Rosenthal’ Clock

This clock’s round dial and simple, rope-driven movement originated in Prussia in the eighteenth century. Mennonite clockmakers continued to make this kind of dial in Russia up to the 1840s. Abraham Kroeger (1791–1872) likely made this clock in Rosenthal around 1815. Abraham’s father, Johann (1754–1823), had taught the clockmaking trade to his sons in Prussia, and continued the practice after the family moved to Russia (now Ukraine) in 1803. As was the practice in Prussia, the Kroegers did not mark their clocks. Arthur Kroeger remade the dial according to designs originally painted by the Kroegers. The motif of a vase filled with flowers is a common one found in Mennonite fraktur (folk art).

Mandtler Clock no. 8267, 1865. Mennonite Heritage Village 1966.406.1 (MC0217)

‘Cityscape’ Mandtler

The Mandtlers, like the Kroegers, had a clockmaking tradition going back to the eighteenth century. Gerhard Mandtler (1821–1904), who made this clock in 1865, was at least a fifth-generation clockmaker. His father, Jacob (ca. 1790–after 1840), moved the family from Prussia to the Molotschna Colony in 1839 and set up a clockmaking workshop in Lindenau. The dial of this clock is original. The dial is painted in a wood grain pattern, which was unique for Mennonite clocks, but common in Mennonite-made furniture.

Mandtler Clock, 1870. Mennonite Heritage Village 1971.1.1 (MC0220)

‘Lilac’ Mandtler

This clock has a green dial that is more typical of Mandtler clocks. Even though it was made later than Mandtler Clock MC0217, it has only one hand and therefore a simpler movement. Mennonite clocks did not follow a linear progression from simple to more complex. Mennonite clockmakers continued to make one-handed clocks not because they weren't able to make more complex clocks, but because simpler clocks were more affordable. In a society where industrialisation was just getting underway in 1870, knowing the exact minute of the day was not crucial.

Hildebrand Clock no. 334, 1871. Mennonite Heritage Village 2013.8.1 (MC0223)

Hildebrand Clock no. 334, 1871. Mennonite Heritage Village 2013.8.1 (MC0223)

‘Crackled’ Clock

Made only a year after Mandtler clock MC0220, this clock tells the minute, chimes the hour, and tracks the date. It was made by Kornelius Hildebrand (1833–1920), who learned his trade under clockmakers Peter Lepp (1817–1871) and Gerhard Hamm (ca. 1818–1866). Hildebrand completed his apprenticeship in 1854 and proceeded to make clocks for almost 25 years. In 1878 Hildebrand embarked on a second career and, like Peter Lepp, went into the farm machinery business. Hildebrand did not abandon clockmaking completely, however; he made a clock for each of his children when they married.

Hamm Clock, 1852. Manitoba Museum H9-6-867 (MC0258)

‘Housebarn’ Clock

Little is known about Gerhard Hamm (ca. 1818–1866) other than that he was a clockmaker who worked with Peter Lepp (1817–1871) and helped train Kornelius Hildebrand (1833–1920). As he seems not to have passed on the trade to one of his children and died young, there are few surviving Hamm clocks. Gerhard Hamm marked the hour wheels of his clocks, including this one, with his initials and the year they were made. The dial was repainted in 1952.

Kroeger Clock no. 1689, 1893 (MC0002)

‘Schulz’ Clock

This clock was made during the peak period of Kroeger clock manufacture, 1890 to 1910. It was commissioned by a wealthy Mennonite factory owner, indicative of the continued economic prosperity for some, and would have been one of the most expensive models the Kroegers made. By this time, the Kroegers had started using serial numbers as well. Though not an unusual design, this is not a typical one; most Kroeger clocks of this period had lighter dials with floral decals. This clock is also significant because it belonged to Arthur Kroeger’s maternal grandparents, and it was the first clock that he restored, repaired, and repainted.

Kroeger Clock, 1887 (MC0100)

‘P.S. 1887 ’ Clock

David Kroeger (1829–1909) made this clock around the time that the Mennonite colonies in Russia (now Ukraine) were undergoing an economic boom. More Mennonites now had a greater need for––and could afford––clocks that told both the hour and the minute. Increased demand also meant that Mennonite clockmakers were starting to industrialise. This clock has the hallmarks of later Kroeger clocks: the movement is more modern, it uses a chain drive instead of the more traditional rope drive, and the dished-out chapter ring, which enabled the dial to be thinner, was now standard. However, the Kroegers only started to use serial numbers the year after this was made and still painted their dials by hand.

Mandtler Clock no. 303, 1905. Mennonite Heritage Village 1966.7000.348 (MC0218)

‘Schilstra’ Clock

The Kroegers were not the only ones to mass-produce clocks. The second Gerhard Mandtler (1855–1930) built his own factory in Lindenau, which was held in much the same esteem as the Kroeger factory at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Mandtlers also seem to have standardised their clocks by this time, as this design is typical of later Mandtler dials. They used decals for their spandrels, but continued to hand-paint their arch designs and kept their dials flat. The Kroegers and Mandtlers must have used the same source for decals, as the decals on this clock are also found on Kroeger clocks. The Mandtlers ceased manufacturing clocks around the time of the Russian Revolution (1918–1921). Gerhard Mandtler was the last Mandtler clockmaker.