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The history of time keeping at the Watch and Clock Museum.

The Watch and Clock Museum, located in Columbia, Pennsylvania, was established in 1977 by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC). The museum is committed to the study of horology - the science of measuring time and the art of making timepieces. Horology gets its name from the horologue, the medieval name for a timepiece.(1)

The history of telling time began over 5,000 years ago with the Egyptians, who developed the first calendar. Before the advent of docks and watches, a variety of instruments were used to measure time. Some items, such as sand glasses and waterclocks, calculated the passage of time, while others indicated the actual time. During the Middle Ages mechanical devices took many years to perfect. Some clock mechanisms with gears and weights achieved a high degree of sophistication. The gears were developed before there was any accurate way to regulate their motion. In 1500 a coiled spring was developed in Germany that allowed for the making of smaller timepieces, but accuracy remained a problem until the eighteenth century. Timekeeping in the United States owed much to British and European technology, but unique designs were eventually created. The first of these designs was the Banjo clock built in 1802.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, as factory owners sought greater efficiency and control in the workplace, time-regulated labor became an important facet of industrialization. The advent of the railroad in Western Europe and the United States also spurred a revolution in horology, for without accurate and consistent timekeeping across large geographical areas, the safe and efficient operation of a railroad was difficult. As people paid more attention to timekeeping in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the variety of timepieces multiplied.(2)

1 The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday year round, plus Sundays May through September. For more information contact the museum at (717) 684-8261.

2 See Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley, Calif., 1986).

Pamela Rector is the administrative assistant for The Historian.

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Author:Rector, Pamela
Publication:The Historian
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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