Clock Evolution: A Look Throughout the Times

Clock Evolution: A Look Throughout the Times

Time is one of the most important ways that humans keep track of things. At the beginning of our existence, time was kept quite crudely using sundials and approximate measures. Today, our time keeping devices are so precise that they can sync almost exactly to the second with other devices halfway around the world. How did this technology evolve? Here’s a look at the history of time and the clock.

The sundial

The sundial was undoubtedly man’s first clock. It had no mechanical movements, but it of course, had to be left out in the sun, which was its dial. A sundial can be as little as a stick that sticks directly up and out of the ground. The time is based on the shadow that the stick creates upon the ground. For this reason, the sun must be present in the sky for the sundial to work. When the stick has no shadow, it is noon or halfway through the day. As the shadow grows longer and more drawn out after noon, the day gets later, and night approaches.

China’s tower clock in the 1090’s

In China in 1094, a Buddhist monk created what is known as the first clock. It was 30 feet tall and featured a face that was meant to mirror the celestial movements. Each hour, little figures would emerge to announce which hour it was.

European clocks of the 13th and 14th centuries

After China’s tower clock, the Europeans were scrambling to come up with their own record of time. Most of their efforts went toward attempting to mirror the movements in the skies, but as it turned out, the clocks that they created changed life forever for regular people.

Of course, the clocks that were created were also extremely difficult and expensive to make. For this reason, they were usually only owned by large cathedrals and churches who would display their clocks at the tops of towers for all to see. Clocks became regular objects in large European cities around the 1380’s and 90’s. In fact, one of the most famous clocks in France is located above a walking street in Rouen. It still stands today after being originally installed in 1389.

Clocks in homes in the 15th century

In the 15th century, clock makers and designers started to hone their craft, and they were able to create smaller versions of the huge clocks. These could be purchased and hung in homes. Most of them were spring-driven, which meant that you had to wind them each day. Later, domestic clocks had pendulums.


After being able to create smaller domestic clocks, clock makers then created watches, which were very expensive and coveted by their owners. You used to have to wind these watches daily as well. Of course, even if you purchase a hand dial watch today, there is no winding involved, as this was phased out as the watch grew easier to make and more convenient.

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