The Evolution of Clocks

What is a Clock?

A clock is an instrument for measuring and recording time, especially by mechanical means, usually with hands or changing numbers to indicate the hour and minute; Clocks are one of the oldest human inventions, helping to consistently track time like the days, months, and the years. The study of timekeeping is called the horology. As time went on and changed, so did clocks. Starting at sundials all the way to modern day digital and wrist clocks. It may not seem like but clocks have changed in many ways.

The First Clock

When the sun was up during the daytime, people would notice that a tree, a rock, and even a body would cast a shadow onto the ground. It would get shorter as the sun moved up into the top/middle of the sky and would become bigger on the opposite side as the sun set. After figuring this concept out, people realized that they were able to estimate the time of day by the shadows. So technically the first time piece was anything that cast a shadow. But the first clock was invented in 1300 BC by the Egyptians. It was called a sundial which used the sun would shine a pointer which would cast a shadow making a hand like shadow. The dial is numbered all around to show the time. As the sun moves throughout the day, the shadows edge aligns with different hour lines. For sundials to work, they must be parallel with to the axis of the Earth's rotation to make sure that you are getting the correct time, all the time. All sundials aren't the same; there are many different types. Some use a shadow or the edge of a shadow and some use a line or spot to indicate time of the day.

The Mechanical Clocks

The Mainspring & Balance Wheel Clocks

  • The first mechanical clocks were invented around 1400 BC in Europe.
  • A mainspring is a spiral torsion spring of metal ribbon that is the power source in mechanical watches and some clocks. Winding the timepiece, by turning a knob or key, stores energy in the mainspring by twisting the spiral tighter.
  • A balance wheel is a timekeeping device used in mechanical watches and come clocks, parallel to a pendulum in a pendulum clock. It is a weighted wheel that rotates back and forth, being returned toward its center position by a spiral torsion spring, the balance spring, or hairspring.


Around the 1500 the watch corporation started to launch. A watch is a clock typically worn around your wrist or attached onto a chain that is kept in a pocket. Today, wristwatches are the most common type of watch used. They evolved in the 17th century from spring powered clocks, which appeared in the 15th century. The first watches were strictly mechanical. The picture (right) shows the early wrist watch by Waltham, worn by soldiers in World War l.

Pendulum Clocks & The Cuckoo Clock

The pendulum clock uses a swinging pendulum to keep track of time. This was developed in 1656. This type of clock needs to be stationary in order to work properly because motion cause time inaccuracy. A lot of these today are know as grandfather clocks. Around the same time, in 1730, the first cuckoo clock was invented. Typically, cuckoo clocks are pendulum-regulated. Striking every hour with a sound of an ordinary cuckoo bird. A lot of the times, birds or some sort of animal will pop out of the clocks.

Atomic Clocks

Isador Rabi made a clock based on the study of atoms, using the method called the atomic beam magnetic resonance. This was in 1945; in 1949, the NIST built the first atomic clock using ammonia. Atomic clocks are the most accurate timekeeping device known to date. Accurate to within a few seconds over many thousands of years, they are used to calibrate other clocks, devices, and timekeeping instruments.

Digital Clocks

Digital clocks shows a numerical representation of the current time. In 1972, it was developed by a watch company named Hamiliton. There are two types of the digital clocks; 24-hour notation which range from 0-23 (a.k.a. military time) and 12-hour notation with AM and PM indicators. Some of these clocks can be harmful to people. They are coated in radium, which is a radioactive chemical. This material can be harmful if has contact to your body. Plato clocks used a similar idea but had a different layout. The Plato clocks were introduced at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904, produced by Ansonia Clock Company. Eugene Fitch of New York patented the clock design in 1903.

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