Hisotory of Clocks why we tell Time how we Track Time Calendars and Clocks History of Time

A clock is something some of us wish had never been invented.  The shrill whine, beep, or ring, of our morning alarms however is just a more recent adaptation of ancient clocks.

Nature invented “time telling”, by making the sun, moon, and all celestial spheres move in certain patterns.  The sun rises, sets, and defines high noon at its apex, predictably, so one could say the clock was “discovered.”  Long before computers and cell phones, people were more adapted to a time sense by knowing the sky.

Not surprisingly then, the first clocks were sun dials. The sun dial could be a simple as a stick in the ground.  When it casts no shadow, it is exactly noon. Early sundials became more and more elaborate and precise, and people learned to plant gardens and erect towers that marked movement through time in the day by length and direction of shadows.  Sundials are still quiet and lovely reminders that original clocks had their definite advantages.

Water clocks came into use, especially in Middle Eastern countries.  People found they could arrange containers, logs, notably bamboo, and other things so that as water followed its predictable gravity drawn path, a full portion of water allowed the “clock” to spill into another receptacle. Early Greeks, than Romans, perfected the use of water not only for clocks, but by using the effects of gravity to invent plumbing as well. These kinds of clocks are still in use today, and can be found in popular garden water features.  The sound and beauty of water falling has always helped time seem almost magical.

No great changes came for clocks until the invention of the pendulum clock in the 17th century.  Attributed to Christian Huygens, in 1656, the pendulum clock relied upon the back and forth swing of a weight within a prescribed width.  Galileo loved to experiment with pendulums and had the idea for such a time piece, but Huygens made one first, and they were in common use right up to the 20th century. 

Some became quite elaborate and works of art with mechanical birds, people, rural scenes and more all moving n and out with the predictable hourly click that set everything into motion.  Cuckoo clocks were pendulum clocks that tied people back to the old fashioned notion of birds, who sing at dawn and dusk, telling time.

Then in the mid twentieth century clocks and watches became greatly varied and highly technologically advanced.  Quartz, self winding, and later digital time pieces became the norm. Clocks then went into a population explosion, as did industry and agriculture. Factory whistles, bells, and punching the time clock came to dominate our world.

Some people are not thrilled with lives being directed by constant buzzing, whirring, beeping, and even shrill ringing. We now have clocks on our ovens, our cell phones, our cars, our walls, our public squares, and our world economic markets.  Our lives are often ruled by them.  But until we can follow nature’s design back to the quiet clocks of celestial spheres, we are stuck for awhile in servitude to our mechanical masters, the clock in all its forms.