Since the beginning of time, people have needed to measure, well, time. Clocks evolved from early sundials and sky-readers to modern technology misfires (looking at you, Apple Watch). And the alarm clock — a device that lives to be hated every morning — is no exception. Here's a brief history of the alarm clock in its many forms.
1. The Number One Technique
The custom of “over drinking” is something we’re familiar with today. However, instead of whisky and more whisky, early man drank tons and tons of water to set his natural, biological alarm clock. By hyperloading the bladder before bed, our ancestors all but guaranteed an early rise to take a leak at almost the same time every morning. This practice has endured well into the 20th century for many Native Americans, and well into Rush Week for most bros.
2. The Clepsydra
Water seems to be a go-to method for waking up. In this case, though, it was the “fuel” of an hourglass-type device that was said to be introduced by Plato. Known as the “water thief,” the device was honed by Ctesibius of Alexandria in 245 B.C. to become the world’s first mechanical clock. Water levels were dispensed depending on seasons, and a floating bob struck a metallic plate once a desired level was reached.
3. Church Bells
Once, alarm clocks were signaled by the heavens. Religious bells were (and are) among the world’s most effective wake-up calls, summoning people to prayer. The Catholic Church's bells were said to be devised in 400 A.D. by Paulinus of Nola, a priest and relgious scholar. They became prominent in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and, ever since, have been the bane of sleeping-in sinners worldwide.
4. Taking Things Up A Peg
In the mid 1500s, Syrian-born inventor Taqi al-Din Muhammad ibn Ma’ruf improved upon the existing alarm clock designs, specifically by modifying a mechanical clock to sound at any desired time via a peg inserted into a hole in the face of the clock. Taqi al-Din’s method originated in Syria, and later made its way throughout Western Europe.
5. The Fire Starter
Using the ingenuity of a flintlock rifle, which was invented in 1610, the fully armed flinctlock alarm popped up in Austria in the early 1700s. At a certain time, a bell sounded and activated the flintlock mechanism, the device responsible for creating a spark and igniting gunpowder in a rifle. This gadget didn't fire a bullet; the charge lit a strategically placed candle, which woke the sleeper with its warm, natural glow. No word on how many houses were burnt down in the process.
6. The Work Whistle
During the Industrial Age, many employees lived close to the factories in which they worked. The factory whistle was implemented to signify the beginning and end of each workday, waking most workers to begin the former. The screaming steam marked the first time that a workday was driven by time in hours, rather than time in daylight or seasons.
7. The Ringer
In 1787, again during the Industrial Revolution, New Hampshire inventor Levi Hutchens designed the next step in modernizing the alarm clock. He built a small pine box around a gear mechanism that, when wound, set off a bell. Hutchens modified his clock to ring at exactly 4 a.m. — the time he needed to be up for work — and essentially became the first person to program an alarm clock. It would be another century, in 1876, until Seth E. Thomas would patent a mechanical wind up alarm clock that could be set for any time.
8. The Clock Radio
After Thomas’ programmable invention sold to the masses, the next step was replacing the annoying and obnoxious bell. In 1940, James F. Reynolds invented the first radio alarm clock, allowing users to rise to music. Many DJs soon became more infuriating than than the bell leading, in short time, to the national scourge of Morning Zoo radio shows.
9. The Snooze Button
Some credit the invention of the much-loved snooze button to Union general (and author of Ben Hur) Lew Wallace. However, this claim remains historically sketchy. We do know that the modern snooze button was introduced in 1956 by General Electric. Originally called “drowse” buttons, the innovations went through several iterations, including five- to ten-minute snooze options (1959), and a simplified version that allowed the now somewhat-standard seven minutes of extra sleep (1969), before becoming almost fully customizable by modern standards.
10 The Online Alarm
While digital timepieces emerged in the early 70s, the mid 2000s set the next stage in alarm clock evolution with the online alarm clock. By allowing users to sync up with computers and personal digital devices, this technology set the standard for the tones and tunes that wake us today. The technology has ebbed and flowed before and since, but the basic notion of a digital countdown has since been built into everything from phones to tablets to TVs.