"An Alarm Clock is A Wonderful Thing." . . . No one I ever met
Almost everyone in the world has an annoying tale about alarm clocks to recount and I am no exception. When I was about 14, (back in the covered wagon days) my father thought it would be funny to plant a little surprise in my pocketbook. I was used to that, and a search for anything often turned into a weird sort of gestalt experience. There was no telling what I might find: assorted candy wrappers, paper clips, used clothing labels, band-aids (not used) and even empty matchbooks often found a home at the bottom of my leather abyss. The subject might have made an interesting horror film.
As I sat in the trendy café of the Museum of Modern Art with a friend one Saturday afternoon, an alarm went off very close to our table. Needless to say, my head turned along with everyone elses searching for the source of the ringing. Something made me reach inside my bag where I found the small pulsating alarm clock whose stop button had long been lost. I buried it under mounds of tissue, covered my face with a napkin and slipped under the table until it finally stopped ringing.
This embarrassing moment could only have been surpassed by that of the inventor of the very first alarm clock who discovered that he could only set it to ring at 4AM! It all seems perfectly fitting to me (but then I am Old Testament, eye for an eye, in thinking). The man who came up with the idea to ruin everyone elses sleep deserved whatever amount he lost in the creative process! (After all, whats good for the goose is good for the gander, nest pas?) The gander in this case (or is it the goose?) is Mr. Levi Hutchins, who couldnt have been too happy a camper on those alarming mornings in 1757 when his annoying contraption resounded throughout Concord, New Hampshire, awakening sleepy village idiots and cranky Paul Revere look-a-likes.
Where did clocks (alarm and otherwise) come from anyway? Down through history man has always used some form of time measurement, if only the seasons of the year or the phases of the moon. This was all that was needed in nomadic and agricultural communities and precise enough to serve their daily needs. The most accurate early devises were designed and utilized by the Chaldeans, the tribe of Moses. (One son married the daughter of Bulova and the rest is history!) The Chaldeans were a busy folk and the very first people attributed with dividing the night and day into twelve hours each. (Cole Porters torment over the issue didnt occur until many years later.)
The Chaldean sun clocks took the form of a hole chipped out of a large rock, with the hour lines converging at the base of a large stick or peg. From simply indicating the passage of unspecified periods of day and night, the peoples of The Middle East soon moved on to bigger, but not necessarily better things, (in between getting lost in the desert and painting all those little camels on cigarette packages). They began to divide the day into more or less the same periods we use today, and time-keeping designs became more sophisticated, utilizing water, mechanical birds and even an early version of the public town clock.
And then came the sundial. It measured time from noon one day to noon the next, that is, for one revolution of the earth on its axis and for one encounter with Gary Cooper and those nasty outlaws at High Whatever. Many medieval churches had sundials long before steeple clocks. However, their major problem was that they only measured local time. Early mechanical clocks were inaccurate and often adjusted by the local sundial. As the time keeping of the clocks improved, the shortcomings of some of the sundials became apparent. Suspicious town folk, (assuaged only by repeated assurances from the village idiot and other members of his family who often vied for the position), took a long time to accept the more accurate and universal time measurement.
In 1504, the first portable timepiece was invented in Nuremberg, Germany, by Peter Henkin. The first reported person to actually wear a watch on the wrist (as opposed to on the ankle or across ones ear) was the French mathematician, Blaise Pascal. His watch was attached to his wrist with a piece of string. In 1577, Jost Burgi invented the minute hand under the auspices of astronomer, Tycho Brahe, who needed an accurate clock for his stargazing. In 1651, the pendulum was invented by Christiaan Huygens, making clocks more accurate. And then we come to our man of the hour, Mr. Levi Hutchins of New Hampshire, who started the love-hate relationship with alarm clocks that persists to this day.