In the Middle Ages, monasteries epitomized the highest level of order, sanctuary, and routine within an uncertain and imprecise world. The mechanical clock was essentially “born” through the efforts of monks (who needed to ring bells to call people to prayer) and their monasteries – either literally or through their influence on the state of mind of the age.
Records show that by the 13th century some cities also had mechanical clocks. Still, they were rare throughout the Middle Ages. The first mechanical clocks consisted of a falling weight tied to a rope wound around a revolving drum. They had no dials or bells, but a person watching it could note the time and strike a bell.
Clocks also symbolized wisdom and virtue, as reflected in the Clock of Wisdom, an illustrated manuscript by 14th century German-Swiss mystic Henry Suso, a Dominican friar. One illustration showed feudal household members admiring the master’s weight-driven clock.
Mechanical clocks became much more accurate after the pendulum was invented in the late 17th century. Their use also resulted in the development of pocket watches and enormous public clocks.
With the spread of mechanical clocks for keeping time, people started living their lives within a “framework” of 60-minute segments comprising an hour and 60 seconds comprising a minute. They switched from body time to mechanical time.
So, they ate at mealtime rather than simply when hungry. They slept when their watches indicated it was bedtime. Periodicals were invented. Fashion trends became annual or seasonal, rather than generational.
Owning a watch was a symbol of success. The Bourgeois ideal was to be “regular as clockwork.”
Colonial Americans also paid remarkably strict and close attention to time’s passage and the obligations it imposed. Almanacs were the most popular books in the colonies and remained so after the American Revolution.
Almanacs emphasized the cyclical quality of time, offered a yearly review of seasonal tasks, and helped guide people (particularly farmers) to manage their time.
One good example is from Robert Bailey Thomas’ Old Farmer’s Almanac from the late 18thCentury and early 19th Century. Referring to the first week of October it says: “Winter apples should now be gathered up, as the frost hurts them much… harvest your Indian corn without delay – the birds and squirrels I am confident will.”
But time – particularly when crossing state or territory boundaries – was still a hazy concept for many people in the 19th century. Relatively few Americans traveled far enough or often enough to suffer because the country lacked standardized time zones.
As a result, there was a sizable public debate about the need for creating such zones. But the railroads, powerful symbols of commercial expansion and progress, had both the motive and the corporate power to reform public timekeeping.
Devised by an association of railroad managers, led by William F. Allen, standardized time zones were adopted by the railroads in the 1880s, and subsequently by governments, other commercial entities and citizens.
Today, timepieces are invaluable in daily life. People check their watch to catch a 10:20 a.m. flight, pick up their children at day care at 4:30 p.m., watch a sporting event at 8 p.m. or depart for work at the appointed hour.
No longer is time imprecise. It’s also no longer unreliable in rainy weather or night-time darkness. Using precise timepieces that are well-maintained and in top operating condition, people know they’re either “on time” or “running late.”
That coupled with society’s technological advances over the past century (such as the invention of microwave ovens, dishwashers, computers, smart phones, and other time saving devices) allows consumers to pack many more activities into each day.
It’s a more precise, ever-evolving “world of time” – one the ancients could never have imagined.
Peter is an independent journalist and an accomplished author. He possesses over 45 years of management and business development experience. Peter is a native of Upstate New York and was the founder and CEO of a leading healthcare technology company that served state and federal government agencies and several notable Fortune 1000 companies across the US. Prior to founding his own company, he was employed by the IBM Company in sales, marketing, and support positions. He has extensive management and entrepreneurial experience in a variety of business sectors. He has participated in special management programs such as the Entrepreneurial Program at The Wharton School of Business and the IBM President’s class at Babson College. He has authored three books on computer technology and writes an independent news column and has consulted with and provided management assistance to organizations large and small in a variety of industries. He recently completed an authoritative Novel “The Union” which is scheduled for release in February 2022 by Archway Publishing (Simon and Shuster). It is an in-depth look at the corruption within organized labor and their criminal relationships with the mafia and politicians. Peter can be reached at…Peter@HugoDogood.net Your comments are invited.
With an a Master of Fine Arts diploma in one hand and an Anthropology PhD in the other, William Thompson discovered a way to parlay his passion for mountaineering into a fascinating career as a photojournalist – using the camera lens as his ultimate “paintbrush.”
Thompson worked for 12 years with National Geographic, having created the first and only complete aerial coverage of Mt. Everest for the magazine. Other exotic assignments involved traveling via yak train through the Bhutanese Himalaya, living with pygmies in deep of Africa, and photographing the Asian elephant on its tragic path toward extinction.
His commercial image work includes major campaigns for Wells Fargo, Leo Burnett, Starbucks, Marlboro, Boeing, United Airlines, Intel, and Holland America.
Today, Thompson lives in a 90-year old log home near the waters of Puget Sound – and still finds adventure in climbing. Fee free to reach out to William via the following points of contact:
William Thompson Photograph/Film
15566 Sandy Hook Rd. NE