7 Ways People Woke Up, Pre-Alarm Clock

filed under:
Image credit: 

Not to, er, sound a note of alarm or anything, but you'll notice roosters are nowhere to be found on this list. That's because roosters will (and do) 'cock a doodle doo all night long, if they're awake. Trust me. I know this to be true after spending a long, sleepless night at a small inn on a small Greek island in the middle of a brutally cold winter.

Now then.

1. Bladder Control

Early man drank tons and tons of water if he needed to wake up before the sun. Why? Well, if you're over the age of 30 or so, you probably know what getting up in the middle of the night to urinate is all about. The custom of "over-drinking" before bed was even utilized by Native American Indians well into the 20th century.

2. The Clepsydra

Speaking of water, water clocks were used by the earliest civilizations for thousands of years. They weren't so much clocks as they were timers, working much in the same way a common hourglass works. It wasn't until 245 B.C. that Ctesibius of Alexandria improved the clepsydra, or 'water thief' as it was known, and created the world's first mechanical clock. Its mind-boggling to think about what Ctesibius accomplished: seasonal cycles required irregular water levels be dispensed into a receiving vessel with equidistant hour-marks, while daily cycles required varying hour-marks and regular efflux. Making the clepsydra an alarm clock required nothing more than a floating bob that struck an alarm once it reached a desired level. Later versions turned gears, signaling an alarm or even springing a catapult that launched a pellet into a metallic plate.

3. Religious Wake-Up Calls

Picture uIn many early Christian societies, bells called churchgoers to prayer in the morning. Religious bells also served to mark the passage of time throughout the day before people wore watches. In most Islamic traditions, audible tones and prayers marked the start of the day (just as they do today). The Fajr (literally "dawn") is the first of five daily prayers blasted out through the village. Four more prayers follow the sun and help mark the passage of time day in, day out.

4. Peg Clocks

About the year 1555, Taqi al-Din Muhammad ibn Ma'ruf (who must have had a heck of a time signing his signature on checks!) invented a few different types of mechanical alarm clocks, including one the would sound at any desired time. This was achieved by placing a peg into a hole on the face of the clock. Taqi al-Din was born in Syria and schooled in Cairo. Similar clocks were also developed around the same time in Western Europe.

5. The Knocker-Up

knockerupThe Knocker-Up (also referred to as a Knocker-Upper) gained prominence during the Industrial Revolution by using a long stick with wire or a knob affixed to the end to rouse customers at a desired time. Clients would agree verbally, in advance, or simply post a preferred time on doors or windows. For a few pence a week, clients could rest assured knowing their Knocker Upper would not leave until he (Knocker Ups were almost always men) was certain a person was awake. Larger Factories and Mills often employed their own Knocker Ups to ensure laborers made it to work on time.

6. The Factory Whistle

factory whistleAt the dawn of The Industrial Age, workers lived around the factory at which they worked, and would wake at the sound of the factory whistle. Steel and textile mills drew in farmers from the countryside, and like that, ding-ding, the clock ruled the roost. Time was always money. But now time could also be regulated more easily. Work was no longer driven by the season; rather it was divided into units of time. It was the factory whistle, not the rising sun or the chirping birds that called people to work.

7. Levi Hutchens' 4 am Alarm

In 1787, Levi Hutchens of Concord, New Hampshire, invented another incipient alarm clock. Built into a simple pine box, a gear mechanism set off a bell. However, the bell on his clock could ring only at 4 am, not coincidentally the time Levi needed to get up for work! Finally, on October 24, 1876 a mechanical wind-up alarm clock that could be set for any time was patented by Seth E Thomas.

Stay in the loop with all my _flossings by following me on Twitter: @resila and be sure to follow all our great writers: @mental_floss.

March 4, 2010 - 4:07am
submit to reddit