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Clock and Calendar History

From Mary Bellis,
Your Guide to Inventors.
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Clocks are instruments that measure and show time.

Featured Article - The History of Time Keeping

Learn about the history of ancient timekeeping, sun and water clocks, mechanical and quartz clocks, time standards and time zones with this indepth five page article.

Minute Hand

In 1577, Jost Burgi invented the minute hand. Burgi's invention was part of a clock made for Tycho Brahe, an astronomer who needed an accurate clock for his stargazing.


In 1656, the pendulum was invented by Christian Huygens, making clocks more accurate.

Wrist Watch

In 1504, the first portable (but not very accurate) timepiece was invented in Nuremberg, Germany by Peter Henlein. The first reported person to actually wear a watch on the wrist was the French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). With a piece of string, he attached his pocket watch to his wrist.


According to the Smithsonian "In 1927, Canadian-born Warren Marrison, a telecommunications engineer, was searching for reliable frequency standards at Bell Telephone Laboratories. Building on earlier work in piezoelectricity, he developed a very large, highly accurate clock based on the regular vibrations of a quartz crystal in an electrical circuit" - the first quartz clock.

Origins of "Clock"

The word 'clock' comes from the French word "cloche" meaning bell. The Latin for bell is glocio, the Saxon is clugga and the German is glocke.

Standard Time

Sir Sanford Fleming invented standard time in 1878.

Alarm Clocks

An early prototype of the alarm clock was invented by the Greeks around 250 BC. The Greeks built a water clock where the raising waters would both keep time and eventually hit a mechanical bird that triggered an alarming whistle.

The first mechanical alarm clock was invented by Levi Hutchins of Concord, New Hampshire, in 1787. However, the ringing bell alarm on his clock could ring only at 4 am. On October 24, 1876 a mechanical wind-up alarm clock that could be set for any time was patented (#183,725) by Seth E Thomas.

Self-winding Watch

Swiss John Harwood invented the self-winding watch in 1923.

Clock Companies

In 1908, the Westclox Clock Company is issued a patent for the Big Ben alarm clock. The outstanding feature on this clock is the bell-back, which completely envelops the inner case back and is an integral part of the case. The bell-back provides a loud alarm.

The Warren Clock Company was formed in 1912 by Mr. Henry Warren as President. The company started by producing a new type of clock run by batteries, prior to that, clocks were either wound or run by weights.


Continue > The Timekeepers

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