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7 Ways People Woke Up, Pre-Alarm Clock

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We have complicated relationships with our alarm clocks. They’re necessary for keeping appointments and staying employed, but you won’t find many people that actually enjoy being jolted out of bed to the same tone every morning for years on end. Though no matter how much you’ve grown to despise the incessant beeping of your alarm, know that waking up was no less of a struggle for previous generations. After all, there’s no snooze button for church bells or a factory whistle. Here are seven ways people would wake up before the invention of the modern alarm clock.

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 Americans well into the 20th century.

2. THE CLEPSYDRA

Speaking of water, the clepsydra, or water clock, was used by the earliest civilizations for thousands of years. They weren't so much clocks as they were timers, working in much the same way a common hourglass works. It wasn't until 245 BCE that Ctesibius of Alexandria improved the clepsydra, or "water thief" as it was known, and created the world's first mechanical clock. It's 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

In 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 invented a few different types of mechanical alarm clocks, including one that 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

The Knocker-Up (also referred to as a Knocker-Upper) gained prominence during the Industrial Revolution, 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

At 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'S 4 A.M. 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 a.m., 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.

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NASA, Getty Images
Watch Apollo 11 Launch
Vice President Spiro Agnew and former President Lyndon Johnson view the liftoff of Apollo 11
Vice President Spiro Agnew and former President Lyndon Johnson view the liftoff of Apollo 11
NASA, Getty Images

Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969, on its way to the moon. In the video below, Mark Gray shows slow-motion footage of the launch (a Saturn V rocket) and explains in glorious detail what's going on from a technical perspective—the launch is very complex, and lots of stuff has to happen just right in order to get a safe launch. The video is mesmerizing, the narration is informative. Prepare to geek out about rockets! (Did you know the hold-down arms actually catch on fire after the rocket lifts off?)

Apollo 11 Saturn V Launch (HD) Camera E-8 from Spacecraft Films on Vimeo.

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Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Utility Workers May Have Found One of Rome’s First Churches
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

The remains of what may have been one of Rome’s earliest Christian churches were accidentally discovered along the Tiber River during construction, The Local reports. The four-room structure, which could have been built as early as the 1st century CE, was unearthed by electrical technicians who were laying cables along the Ponte Milvio.

The newly discovered structure next to the river
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

No one is sure what to make of this “archaeological enigma shrouded in mystery,” in the words of Rome’s Archaeological Superintendency. Although there’s no definitive theory as of yet, experts have a few ideas.

The use of colorful African marble for the floors and walls has led archaeologists to believe that the building probably served a prestigious—or perhaps holy—function as the villa of a noble family or as a Christian place of worship. Its proximity to an early cemetery spawned the latter theory, since it's common for churches to have mausoleums attached to them. Several tombs were found in that cemetery, including one containing the intact skeleton of a Roman man.

Marble flooring
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

A tomb
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma1

The walls are made of brick, and the red, green, and beige marble had been imported from Sparta (Greece), Egypt, and present-day Tunisia, The Telegraph reports.

As The Local points out, it’s not all that unusual in Rome for archaeological discoveries to be made by unsuspecting people going about their day. Rome’s oldest aqueduct was found by Metro workers, and an ancient bath house and tombs were found during construction on a new church.

[h/t The Local]

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