“Grandfather's Clock”


A description of the relations between grandfather and clock. The clock ran for the entire length of the old man's life, celebrating happy occasions and never complaining. "But it stopp'd -- short -- never to go again When the old man died."

Supplemental text

Grandfather's Clock
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

From sheet music published 1876 by C. M. Cady.
Title page inscribed
 Song and Chorus

1. My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf,
   So it stood ninety years on the floor;
   It was taller by half than the old man himself,
   Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
   It was bought on the morn on the day that he was born,
   And was always his treasure and pride;
   But it stopp'd short -- never to go again --
   When the old man died.

Ninety years, without slumbering (tick, tick, tick, tick),
His life-seconds numbering (tick, tick, tick, tick),
It stopp'd short -- never to go again --
When the old man died.

2. In watching its pendulum swing to and fro,
   Many hours he had spent while a boy;
   And in childhood and manhood the clock seemed to know
   And to share both his grief and his joy.
   For it struck twenty-four when he entered at the door,
   With a blooming and beautiful bride,
   But it stopp'd short -- never to go again --
   When the old man died.

3. My grandfather said that of those he could hire,
   Not a servant so faithful he'd found;
   For it wasted no time and had but one desire --
   At the close of each week to be wound.
   At it kept in its place -- not a frown upon its face,
   And its hands never hung by its side;
   But it stopp'd short -- never to go again --
   When the old man died.

4. It rang an alarm in the dead of the night --
   An alarm that for years had been dumb;
   And we knew that his spirit was pluming for flight --
   That his hour of departure had come.
   Still the clock kept the time, with a soft and muffled chime,
   As we silently stood by his side;
   But it stopp'd short -- never to go again --
   When the old man died.


Soon after the Civil War, Henry Clay Work retired from songwriting (presumably because of the poor pay). In 1871, however, the Chicago fire burned down the offices of Root and Cady (the publishing firm), and Chauncy M. Cady asked his friend Work to write some songs to help him re-establish his business.

One of the songs Work turned in was "Grandfather's Clock," which had been gathering dust in his files for some years. The song sold some 800,000 copies, and earned Work about $4,000 in royalties (at that time, easily enough to retire on).

Folklore has it that, until this song was published, floor clocks were just "floor clocks" or "tall clocks." Since then, they have been known as "Grandfather clocks." This strikes me as more reasonable than many folk derivations, but I cannot verify this from any of my linguistic sources.

Incidentally, there was one famous instance of something rather like this actually happening, though I doubt it inspired Work's song. The story is of the famous Captain Cook and his final voyage of exploration. One of the reasons Cook was such a great explorer was that he was among the first officials to actually be able to tell longitude; in recent decades, enough astronomical data had been gathered to make it possible to navigate by the stars -- plus the chronometer (the first timepieces accurate enough to tell time while at sea) had been invented.

True chronometers were still very rare in Cook's time, since they had to be hand-made with incredible accuracy. John Harrison (1693-1776) had invented the device and built a handful; Larcum Kendall had made a handful in imitation of Harrison. Kendall's first machine, known as K-1, was used by Cook on his voyages. And, according to Dava Sobel, _Longitude_ (new edition with a foreward by Neil Armstrong, 2005; I use the 2007 Walker paperback edition), p, 151, "Almost at the instant the captain died in 1779, according to an account kept at the time, K-1 also stopped ticking." - RBW

Parodies of this piece have been common. Paul Stamler tells us of "His Grandfather's Hat," which likely will not make it into this collection: "'His Grandfather's Hat' is a parody of 'Grandfather's Clock,' referring to candidate Benjamin Harrison [elected in 1888, but defeated in 1892], grandson of President William Henry Harrison: 'His grandfather's hat is too big for his head/But Ben puts it on just the same.'" - PJS, RBW

Cross references


  • Carolina Buddies, "Grandfather's Clock" (Decca 5142, 1935)
  • [?] Clark & [Walter] Scanlan, "Grandfather's Clock" (Edison 50979, 1922)
  • Frank Crumit, "Grandfather's Clock" (Victor 19945, 1926)
  • Edison Male Quartette, "Grandfather's Clock" (CYL: Edison 8967, 1905)
  • Chubby Parker, "Grandfather's Clock" (Supertone 9732, 1930)
  • Tom & Roy, "Grandfather's Clock, Part 1/Part 2" (Montgomery Ward M-4242, 1933)


  1. RJackson-19CPop, pp. 76-79, "Grandfather's Clock" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Silber-FSWB, p. 251, "Grandfather's Clock" (1 text)
  4. ST RJ19076 (Full)
  5. Roud #4326
  6. BI, RJ19076


Author: Henry Clay Work
Earliest date: 1876
Found in: US