Conny Waters – Icestech.info – Our modern society depends on the clock. Almost everything we do must be made on time. Whether it’s going to school, work, or meeting friends we simply need the clock to live. Undoubtedly, following the hours can sometimes be stressful, but it has become a necessity.
But relying on and being dependent on day and night hours is nothing new. Ancient people had also duties that had to be performed on time. Sleeping the whole day was not on the agenda of our ancestors.
So how did ancient people wake up on time before the alarm clock was invented by the ancient Greeks?
We know that the basic idea of an alarm clock can be traced to Ctesibius, an ancient Greek engineer, physicist, and mathematician who lived in Alexandria, Ptolemaic Egypt.
Ctesibius (285–222 BC) was the Father of Pneumatics, a branch of engineering that makes use of gas or pressurized air. Ctesibius was a great scientist ahead of his time. Some even describe him as an ancient genius. He is best known for his three inventions – the suction pump, the water clock, and the hydraulis, a musical instrument that is the ancestor of the pipe organ. The oldest clocks in history are water clocks.
However, long before people learned about water clocks they still managed to get up on time.
Native Americans also relied on water, but not in the same way. By drinking plenty of water Native Americans could wake up earlier than expected, but unfortunately not to a specific time. This over-drinking practice was utilized by Native Americans well into the 20th century.
Fragment of a basalt water-clock, with evaporation time markers on interior as dots on djed and was hieroglyphs. Late period, 30th Dynasty. From Egypt. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London. Credit: Public Domain – CC BY-SA 4.0
Ancient Egyptians had another effective method that helped them to wake up on time. In 245 B.C. ancient Egyptians came up with an ingenious invention that later became known as the world’s first mechanical clock. They simply put water “into a vessel on an hourly basis to tell the time. By adding an alarm mechanism such as a pellet hitting a metallic plate, an effective alarm clock was created.” 1
As times passed, and many people became Christian religious bells also served to mark the passage of time throughout the day before people wore watches. Christians knew that the sound of bells called churchgoers to prayer in the morning. To Muslims, prayers marked the start of the day, and they still do that today.
During the Industrial Revolution, when alarm clocks were neither cheap nor reliable the Knocker Upper gained prominence. A Knocker-Upper was a profession in Britain and Ireland and those people were responsible for waking sleeping people so they could get to work on time. Factories hired a person to “knock on windows with a long stick or a pea shooter to make sure employees arrived at the mill on time.” 1
A knocker-upper in Leeuwarden. Credit: Public Domain
But who woke the knocker uppers? According to author Richard Jones, “the knocker uppers were night owls and slept during the day instead, waking at about four in the afternoon.” 2
One problem knocker uppers faced was making sure workers did not get woken up for free.
“When knocking up began to be a regular trade, we used to rap or ring at the doors of our customers,” Mrs Waters, a knocker upper in the north of England told an intrigued reporter from Canada’s Huron Expositor newspaper in 1878.
“The public complained of being disturbed… by our loud rapping or ringing; and the knocker-up soon found out that while he knocked up one who paid him, he knocked up several on each side who did not,” she continued.
The solution they hit on was modifying a long stick, with which to tap on the bedrooms windows of their clients, loudly enough to rouse those intended but softly enough not to disturb the rest.
See also: More Ancient History Facts
Later when the alarm clock became cheaper and everyone could afford one, the Knocker-Upper profession ceased, but one can imagine how tiresome it must have been to walk in the early, cold morning when everyone was asleep in a warm bed.
Written by Conny Waters – Icestech.info Staff Writer
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Expand for references
- All About History, Issue 35
- Sitala Peek – Knocker uppers: Waking up the workers in industrial Britain, BBC
- The Huron Expositor – Mar 22, 1878