Throughout history, people have always needed something to wake them up. Without alarm clocks, half of the population would probably not make it to work or school. That’s why these nifty little inventions were so pivotal for the world.
So, this begs the question: how did people start their day before the first alarm clock was invented?
When Was Alarm Clock invented?
The beginnings of a time-telling device can be traced back to as early as 725, when a Chinese monk, astronomer, mathematician and gifted engineer, Yi Xing, was tasked to improve the calendars in China.
Being an overachiever, as you can see from his various occupations, he created something far more than just a clock. He named his invention the “Water-driven spherical birds-eye-view map of the heavens” – an astronomical clock that measures time and the distance of planet and stars.
This complicated invention wasn’t the beginning of the compact alarm clocks we know today though. It uses an elaborate water wheel that turns gears in the clock. At every hour, puppet shows or gongs were sounded to tell the common folk of the time. The world of time-telling and alarm clocks have been set in motion.
The European history has the first mention of alarm clocks dating back to the 15th century in Germany. They were iron wall clock with a bronze bell standing 19 inches tall and having an open framework construction.
The Early English Clocks book written by Dawson, Drover and Parkes mentions the first mention of alarm clocks dating back to ca. 1620. It was a lantern clock with an alarm set disc on front of the dial.
Levi Hutchins – The Founding Father Of American Alarm Clocks
Levi Hutchins, an American inventor with the penchant to wake up early, made the first personal alarm clock over a century later in 1787 which is widely mistakenly considered as the inventor of alarm clocks.
The problem, however, was that his early alarm clock was fixed at 4 am – Hutchins’ preferred awaking time. He was a simple man who wanted to wake up at 4 am specifically and found a solution to his own need. Hutchins had no intention to commercialize his invention and has not even considered patenting it. Despite earlier versions of alarm clocks from Germany and England, Levi Hutchins is still often incorrectly stated as the inventor of the first mechanical alarm clock.
First Patented Alarm Clocks
Half a century later, Hutchins’ invention was taken up a notch by Frenchman Antoine Redier. In 1847, Redier created the first adjustable alarm clock which allows the user to set a time to awake.
The adjustable alarm clock was made with a hole in each number on the clock dial. To set your alarm, you stick a pin into the hole of the corresponding time. It’s simple, but you can’t adjust your alarm down to the minute. You’d have to make do with waking up to the closest hour with Redier’s invention.
First Mass Manufactured Alarm Clocks
Redier’s patent didn’t make it across the Atlantic, so an American by the name of Seth E. Thomas took it upon himself to refine Redier’s design and patent his version in America.
On October 24, 1827, Thomas made a mechanical wind-up alarm clock that can be set for any time. At that time, he already owned what was known as one of the most successful clock making firms in the country. With the resources he had, his company became the pioneer mass-producer of alarm clocks and was seen as the company that brought alarm clocks to the masses.
Inspired by Thomas, the world experienced an alarm clock boom since the mid-1900s. Eventually, alarm clocks became smaller and more portable. Some higher-end alarm clocks also have customized ringtones. It became an essential device for every household, until the Second World War.
The Importance of Alarm Clocks in World War II
When World War II became imminent, nearly all factories were converted to manufacture war-related products. Plus the shortage of metal, the clock making industry was halted to a complete stop as they were not allowed to manufacture clocks.
However, workers still need to wake up for work in the morning to assist war efforts. As the war dragged on, old alarm clocks started breaking down and the people had to improvise. Alarm clocks made out of reinforced egg cartons with paper pups and pressed wood were made to temporarily fulfill the need for a clock.
Eventually, even the governments started to recognize the need for clocks in the war for the smooth operation of industries. From as early as 1944, some factories were allowed to continue producing their products. Alarm clocks became one of the first commodities that were sold after the war.
Westclox Waralarm was one of the first alarm clocks to be sold during the war. On March 21, 1944, the product was set to be sold in a Chicago store. Chaos ensued as men and women rushed into the store to get their hands on one of these limited-edition clocks. Within an hour of opening, police officers had to rescue injured customers from the mob, which further demonstrated how sought after alarm clocks were.
Modern Day Alarm Clocks
After WWII, much has been done to improve alarm clocks. For starters, alarm clocks come with the snooze button now, which conditioned generations of people smacking the alarm clocks with surprising vigor in the morning.
Although they are not commonly used nowadays by the younger generation, the industry is still improving and refining their designs to feature functions that aren’t possible with alarm clock apps.
Dual alarm clocks, for example, are alarm clocks with additional features that enhance the dreaded morning call. Some dual alarm clocks gently simulate sunlight for those who like to wake up with the sun. Others are specifically designed to help deep sleepers get up in the morning. The most efficient alarm clock for heavy sleepers feature a louder volume cap, vibration alert and flashing light to help wake heavy sleepers out.
For people who abuse the snooze button, more sophisticated dual alarm clocks require you to solve a math problem or a puzzle to shut the alarm clock up.
Concluding On The Rich History of Alarm Clocks
Regardless of the alarm clock’s almost 2000 year long history, their functions haven’t deviated from their original purpose of waking people up for the day.
Smartphones are great inventions, but they tend to keep you up during the night. The mindless scrolling on social media apps and the constant notification sounds during the night isn’t conducive to your sleep either.
With advance improvements on dual alarm clocks, you don’t have to deal with the adverse effects of using your phone as an alarm clock. These alarm clocks often feature useful functions that will give you better quality sleep. You can dim the display to avoid unwanted light. You can turn up the alarm if you’re a heavy sleeper. You can even disable the snooze button in some dual alarm clocks if you tend to sleep through multiple alarms.
Although alarm clocks weren’t used as quintessential as they were before, it’s unlikely that they will completely go away. Given how much alarm clocks have improved over the past couple of years, it’s safe to say that alarm clocks will continue to be your companion during the worst part of waking up.