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Informational Article on Frick Electric Program Clock

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On March 19, 1895, Fred Frick of Waynesborough, Pennsylvania, was issued one of two patents by the United States Patent Office for his Electric Program Clock. His invention was not just a way to keep time. His clock provided an improved method to allow schools, colleges, businesses and factories to ring bells or sound signals so that those inside and outside the buildings would know that a certain time in their day was beginning or ending. In a factory the bells might signal the beginning of a work shift while in a school the bell might let students know a class was beginning. Why do you think this was important?

Fred Frick's Electric Program Clock improved on the signaling by making it happen automatically at a given time or interval which could be set by the user. The signals (or bells) could be set for different times on different days or turned off for periods of time. Programs were created to control the pattern of the way and times when the signals were heard. A different pattern of bells could be rung in different rooms or buildings depending of the user's needs. In his patent application Frick stated that the objective of his invention was to produce an "efficient mechanism by means of which certain predetermined signals can be automatically brought into and out of action at certain predetermined times." The Electric Program clock consisted of an eight day clock, a program disk, a switch mechanism, a spring motor to turn the program disk and a clock case. There were two grades of program clocks. Grade 1 was the more expensive and it came in a Multa-Program version (Class A) and an Automatic Calendar Switch (Class B) version.

The program was set or adjusted through the program disk. The program disk was a circular metal disc which was capable of opening and closing electrical circuits. Contact arms or springs were placed to project from the disk. The ends of the contact arms were bent so that they would make contact with a series of pins. When contact between the pin and contact arm was made, the electric circuit was closed or completed and the bell would sound. Pins could be inserted into the perforations of the program disk so that the signals could sound every 5 minutes or at whatever interval was desired in 5 minute or two and one-half minute intervals. Today when we hear the term program disk we think of computer program disks. The meaning of the term has changed since Frick's time and in many ways the program disks of today are very different from the Frick program disk. But, even though the process may be quite different it could be said that both perform tasks to control the ways things worked.

The program disk made a complete revolution in 12 hours. At the end of each 12 hour period the toothed wheel would move 1 tooth. There were 14 teeth on the wheel. This meant it would take a full week - 7 days and 7 nights - to complete the full program which was set for the clock. This is how bells could be programmed to be turned off during the night and on the weekends if desired.

The program disk had a front face with the numbers 1 to 12 on it so that it looked much like a clock dial. The outer part of the program disk was thicker and had a series of grooves and perforations in which the contact pins could be placed. The arrangement of the pins placed in the disk perforations determined the program or when the bells would be sounded.

In order to protect his new idea, Frick applied for a patent. Since he was interested in protecting the way his invention was used and how it operated he needed to apply for an utility patent rather than a design patent. He submitted a series of drawings and a detailed description to the United States Patent Office. He was granted two patent awards for his Electric Program Clock. Frederick Frick's received other recognition for his Electric Program Clock. One of these awards was the Edward Longstreth Medal of Merit from The Franklin Institute's Committee on Science and the Arts in 1899. An ABSTRACT about the clock was published in the Journal of The Franklin Institute in August of 1899.

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Carla Schutte, Mike Lipinski, Susan Silverman
Gail Watson, Tammy Payton
March 2000