You are here: Home » History » Time Measuring Devices Throughout The History

Time Measuring Devices Throughout The History

This is an article about various time measuring devices throughout the history.

Time Measuring Devices in Ancient World


People of all the ancient civilizations wondered what time is. Thousands of years ago, many ancient civilizations had special calendars and time measuring devices. As a matter of fact, artifacts from Palaeolithic show that ancient people used the moon to calculate time more than 10.000 years ago. Lunar calendars were among the first ways of measuring time. Lunar calendars were later changed by the solar calendars, which found their way to most of the world back in the first century. Although, calendars were a great instruments to measure long periods of time (months, years, decades etc.) people needed some time measuring devices to measure short periods of time.

People have invented a great variety of time measuring devices. However, most of the ancient devices can be classified to water clocks, sun clocks and sand clocks. For example Egyptians used a T formed sun clock to measure time throughout the day. It was one of the most simple time measuring devices, however, it wasn’t very precise, and also it depended on the sun shine and the time of the day. Another example of a time measuring devices from ancient Egypt was a very precise water clock found in a tomb of pharaoh Amenhotep I (1525–1504 BC).

A water clock:

Image from:

Water clock mechanism:

Image from:

A simple solar clock:

Image from:

Clocks in the Middle Ages

Simple and interesting example of time measuring devices in the Middle Ages was the candle clock. These clocks were popular among monks during the Middle Ages. Basically, monks used candles that burn at approximately predictable speeds to measure time.

In the 11th century, Chinese inventors invented the first mechanical clocks. These clocks were more accurate than any other clocks of the time, and the invention spread throughout the world.

It is important to notice, that water clocks were also used during the Middle Ages until about 13th century.

Between 1280 and 1320, there is an increase in the number of references to clocks in church records. It can be seen from the church records that water clocks were adapted to take their power from falling water. Some records even state that these water clocks even had a special alarm system that used a bell.

Spring driven clocks appeared in 1400s. Various problems with the spring clock technology have lead clock makers to many technological innovations.

A candle clock animation:

Image from:

An inside of a mechanical clock:

Image from:

Pendulum Clock

Pendulum driven clocks, invented in the later centuries, were even more accurate. Such a clock uses pendulum as its time keeping element. From its invention in 1656 by Christian Huygens until the 1930s pendulum clock was one of the most popular time measuring devices. Short after the pendulum clock discovery another interesting innovation was added – minute hands and then second hands were added.

A nice video about a pendulum clock movement:

Video from youtube uploaded by RFCafe

Modern Clocks

A Scottish clockmaker Alexander Bain patented an electronic clock in 1840. The mechanism of the clock was driven by either an electric motor or an electro-magnet.

The development of electronics has increased the popularity of electronic clocks, which have no clockwork parts at all. These clocks measure time by using the vibration of a tuning fork or measuring the behavior of quartz crystals.

A modern electronic clock:

Image from:

Atomic clocks

Later, in the 1950s atom clock was invented. An atom clock is a type of clock that uses an atomic resonance frequency standard as its timekeeping element. Atomic clocks use the precise microwave signal that electrons in atoms emit when they change energy levels. Currently, the most accurate atomic clocks are based on absorption spectroscopy of cold atoms in atomic fountains. At the time being atom clock is the most precise time measuring device we have. Currently these clocks maintain an accuracy of 0.0000000001 second per day.

A picture of a first atomic clock:

Image from:×878_1.jpg

 For more articles visit:

Join Triond and write your own articles at:

Liked it
Powered by Powered by Triond