The Pneumatic Clocks of Paris

When French-born but London-based civil and electrical engineer, Jules Albert Berly, traveled to Paris for the 1881 International Exposition of Electricity, he saw many wonderous exhibits such as incandescent lamps, the Théâtrophone, the electric tramway, Graham Bell’s telephone, an electrical distribution network, an electric boat and many more fascinating cutting-edge technology of the time. But the thing that captivated him the most did not run on electricity. It ran on air.

Berly was entranced by a system of clocks that stood on “graceful light iron pillars in the squares, at the corners of streets, and in other conspicuous positions about the city,” as well as those in hotels, each keeping—what was unusual in that age—”accurate time”. These remarkable timekeepers were not powered or regulated by electricity, but by compressed air that was sent from a central station through wrought iron pipes to all public clocks operated in this fashion.

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A multiple-faced pneumatic clock in the Place de la Madeleine, Paris.


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