Carbon 6 Lab: Count Down to New Year's With a Brief History of Counting Time

On New Year’s Eve, humans across planet Earth will reference some form of time-telling device in order to count down the hours, minutes and seconds until 2017 ends and 2018 begins. In honor of this collective clock-watching experience, we take a look back at the inspiring evolution of telling time and the increasingly sophisticated time-measuring devices that have accompanied this evolution.

Year: 4,000 BCE

Time-Measuring Device: Sundial

Technology: Ancient Egyptians learned to tell time through the use of a sundial, which was basically a rod (or gnomon) placed in the ground that cast a shadow reflective of the sun’s position in the sky. Based on the shadow’s angle, the Egyptian populace could determine what time of day it was. Clock like an Egyptian.

Year: 325 BCE

Time-Measuring Device: Water Clock

Technology: Ancient Greeks measured time through a water clock, which they called “clepsydra,” meaning “water thief.” This primitive clock was made out of a container filled with water that sloped on the sides and had a small hole near its bottom. Water dripped from this hole steadily and the passage of time could be measured by markings on the inside of the vessel. It’s all Greek to me-asure.

Year: 710 CE

Time-Measuring Device: Incense Clock

Technology: During Japan’s Nara period (roughly 710-794 CE), incense clocks were placed in front of Buddha statues in temples. Monks would deduce the passage of time based on the length of the clock’s burned incense embers. On a less spiritual note, a geisha was paid for the number of incense clocks that burned while she was present, a practice which continued until 1924. I’m turning onto Japanese technology, I really think so.

Year: 8th Century CE

Time-Measuring Device: Hourglass

Technology: An hourglass is a device comprised of two glass bulbs connected vertically by a neck that allows a regulated flow of sand from the top bulb to the lower one. The prototype of the hourglass is said to have been invented by Liutprand, a French monk who served at the cathedral in Chartres, France, in 8th century CE. Bon temps!

Year: 14th Century CE

Time-Measuring Device: Tower Clock

Technology: Unlike previous clocks, which relied on natural elements to tell time, mechanical clocks relied on man-made machinery. The earliest mechanical clocks could be found in towers across Italy in the 14th century. These clocks were weight-driven and regulated by verge escapement technology which, in layman’s terms, means they featured a gear train which advanced at regular intervals or “ticks.” Tock about a major technological breakthrough.

Year: 15th Century CE

Time-Measuring Device: Spring-Driven Clock

Technology: Royalty soon demanded smaller clocks than those found in towers to keep track of the passage of time. Voilà! Enter spring-driven clock technology, which allowed for smaller time-telling devices like household clocks by using small springs instead of space-taking weights. The earliest known spring-driven clock was a chamber clock given to Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. C'est magnifique!

Year: 16th Century CE

Time-Measuring Device: Watch

Technology: Thanks to the invention of the mainspring in the early 15th century, Nuremberg clockmaker Peter Henlein helped invent a type of portable timepiece we now call a watch. Called “taschenuhr” in German, Henlein’s ornamental watches were primarily worn as pendants by women and inspired men to ask, “Wie spät ist es, Frau?”

Year: 1675

Time-Measuring Device: Pocket Watch

Technology: Charles II of England is credited with popularizing a new way of carrying watches: in one’s waistcoat pocket. Featuring new outer glass protection and inner hairspring technology, the pocket watch quickly became a fashionable and luxurious item.

Year: 1868

Time-Measuring Device: Wristwatch

Technology: In 1868, Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe designed the first wristwatch, which he gave as a gift to Countess Koscowicz of Hungary. Although this seminal piece of technology was primarily used by women like Koscowitz as decorative jewelry, it would soon become the most common method for Counts, Countesses, and everyone else to count time.

Year: 1927

Time-Measuring Device: Quartz Clock

Technology: Built in 1927 by Warren Marrison and J.W. Horton at Bell Telephone Laboratories in the U.S., the quartz clock used an electronic oscillator regulated by a quartz crystal to keep time. The original quartz clock was as big as a room but Marrison and Horton made it big time in the science community with their pivotal invention, which would later be shrunk down to more user-friendly size.

Year: 1956

Time-Measuring Device: Digital Clock

Technology: The earliest patent for a digital alarm clock was registered by D.E Protzmann and others on October 23, 1956, in the United States. Protzmann and his associates also patented another digital clock in 1970, which was said to use a minimal amount of moving parts. Instead of the traditional hour, minute and second hands of the mechanical clocks, time now announced itself numerically.

Year: 1957

Time-Measuring Device: Battery Watch

Technology: Created by U.S. watch manufacturer Wilson, the revolutionary battery-driven watch replaced the former mechanical watch. The battery watch featured a traditional balance wheel or tuning fork and was driven electromagnetically by a solenoid powered by a battery, while the hands were driven mechanically through a wheel train. This invention gave time-telling technology the jolt of modern innovation it needed.

Year: 1969

Time-Measuring Device: Quartz Watch

Technology: In 1968, Japanese company Seiko released the first household quartz clocks. One year later, their quartz watch revolutionized the world of time. One of the major features of the watch was its sweeping second hand, which became the symbol of quartz watches later on and helped Seiko sweep away the watch-making competition.

Year: 1973

Time-Measuring Device: Cell Phone

Technology: Let’s face it: most of us will be staring at our cell phones to determine the time on New Year’s Eve. But did you know that the first cell phone was invented in 1973 by America’s Motorola researcher and executive Martin Cooper? The first commercial version of the cell phone, the Motorola DynaTAC 800x, would be released a decade later, priced at $4,000 and with a mere 30 minutes of phone time before dying. We have it so good today.

Time’s up on this journal entry. Hope you’ve enjoyed traveling back in time with us for a brief look at the history of time. Now grab your preferred timepiece and let the countdown to 2018 begin!

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