Hundreds of them are silently doing their work – every day, 24/7. Just once a minute, they get 1.5 seconds to rest. Of course, I am talking about the iconic Swiss station clocks!
How it all started
It is fascinating to read about the history of the station clock, with its beginnings back in 1944. At the time, Hans Hilfiker was an engineer employed by the Swiss federal railways (SBB). He was tasked with designing a clock which would guarantee the smooth operation of the train system and at the same time become a national symbol.
Remember, this was at the time when electric engines replaced the classic steam engines. Due to the gain in speed and efficiency, this transformation resulted in a more frequent operation of trains, hence needing a reliable way of keeping track of the schedule.
Thanks to advances in technology, the main clock in Zürich would send a signal to all the roughly 3000 station clocks in Switzerland – ensuring a synchronized time.
Simple and durable Swiss design
“Form follows function” would be a good way of describing the pragmatic Swiss Bahnhofsuhr. The design of the Swiss station clock is very simplistic. There are no digits to denote the time, but black lines instead. The red hand resembles one of those old-fashioned station signals. It indicates seconds as it moves seamlessly and smoothly, only to stop for that magical moment once it reaches the top of the minute.
In many aspects, Hilfiker’s station clock is a design masterpiece which can now be found not only at every Swiss train station, but also on many a wrist or even on iPhone screens. The book “Die Bahnhofsuhr” by Edition Hochparterre is a small marvel: It is a beautiful and insightful tribute to this Swiss icon, which has now become a symbol for Switzerland’s punctuality!
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Edition Hochparterre, German, 72 pages