Oh No! Not Now!

1824 Alarm Clock Works | Photo by clockhistory.com

There are many things that annoy or disturb us every day. Each of us has one thing or possibly many things that disturb us, but we all have one in common. It can jolt you out of the dream of a lifetime or the scariest situation ever. I’m talking about the alarm clock. It drags us out of our comfortable beds and sends us into the cold cruel world. There are some days that we really couldn’t get started without it and others when we resent its intrusion into out peaceful night’s sleep. In today’s technical world computers and even our cell phones can tell us when it is time to wake up. Where did all of this get started? How long ago did someone come up with the idea of giving time so much control over our lives?

Yi Xing, Astronomer, etc. | Image by hua.umf.maine.edu

According to an April 21, 2016 article in atlasobscura.com titled “A 2000-year history of Alarm Clocks” written by Naomi Russo, it all started in China around the year 725 because of an engineer, astronomer, mathematician, and monk named Yi Xing. Xing was asked to improve the Chinese calendar and in the process he built an astronomical clock that he called “Water-Driven Spherical Bird’s-Eye-View Map of the Heaven.” It was a very complicated clock that also measured the distance of planets and stars. Talk about an entertaining clock, it had a water wheel that turned the gears an even had gongs and puppet shows that popped up as specific times.


Plato’s Water Clock | Image by pinterest.com

Also mentioned is the water clock that was devised by Plato in the 4th century BCE so he could wake up early for the dawn lectures that he gave. According to the article it was in 15th century Germany that personal mechanical alarm clocks began, but the identity of the clock makers is a mystery.

1824 Alarm Clock Works | Photo by clockhistory.com

Another article, this time from clockhistory.com, quoting the writer Jeffery Wood’s research: “An example is a lantern clock ca. 1620 that has an alarm set disc on the front of the dial. One longcase (grandfather) clock ca. 1690 is documented, as a 30-hour hanging timepiece by Joseph Knibb.” “Simon Willard of Grafton, Massachusetts, made alarm timepieces sometimes called ‘lighthouse clocks’ in the 1820s. Some of the American wooden works shelf clocks of the 1820s-30s have alarms as do many brass movement shelf clocks after 1840.

In 1847 Frenchman Antoine Redier was the first person to patent an adjustable alarm clock. The clock could actually be set for the time the person wanted to awaken. Quoting the atlasobscura.com article again “Each adjustable alarm clock had a hole in each number on the clock dial. A pin was placed in the hole responding to the time you needed to be up. Very simple, unless you wanted to be more specific than the closest hour!” In 1865 Laporte Hubbell developed and patented a 30-hour “Marine” movement. It was used as the movement for the top bell tin can alarm clock. Seth E. Thomas, an American, in 1876 patented his own version of Redier’s clock and mass produced the alarm clock making it available to the general public.

Knocker-Uppers | Image by Vintage.es

A non-mechanical way to get people up in the morning was used in Ireland and Britain. People would hire a “knocker-upper” who would bang on doors and windows to wake people up. Some would use a pea shooter or even a truncheon to get the attention of the person sleeping. It seems with the proliferation of actual alarm clocks that the knocker-upper business faded in the 1920s.

1931 Westclox Chime Alarm Clock Ad | Image by clockhistory.com

In 1931 the Westclox Company made the Chime Alarm. The advertising slogan for this clock was “First he whispers, then he shouts.”

Alarm clock manufacturing practically came to a complete halt during WW ll. According to atlasobscura.com “Metals were scarce at the time, though, so most war-clocks were made of a combination similar to a reinforced egg carton, with pulped paper and pressed wood.” “Due to the  decreased supply the U.S. War Production Board requested ‘that no one buy a war alarm unless it satisfies real need, not merely a want, wish, or whim.” Those sure were tough times. As the war was coming to a close production increased in part due to the fact that old clocks began breaking at an increasing rate.

Snooze Button | Photo by Pinecove.com

I know many people who desperately use the snooze button on their clock to catch a few more moments of slumber. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the snooze button was added to alarm clocks. As I mentioned earlier, now many people use the alarm mode on their smart phones as an alarm clock. There are so many more options for what kind of sound or sounds that can be utilized. You could choose a traditional alarm sound, various chimes or whistles, and even segments from musical compositions that you can edit yourself. No matter how fancy you make it you are still being pulled out of your comfortable bed by a noise that is supposed to wake you up so you can be on time for whatever awaits you.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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