Before modern alarm clocks, nature took care of things: crowing roosters, morning light and singing birds did the trick. These were just some of the ways to wake up without an alarm clock in olden times. And there’s more. We’ve collected an assortment of the clever methods used over the centuries to rouse sleepers out of a slumber, from candles, to water to incense and more.
Candles and clangs? Here’s how they went together to get snoozers out of bed. Candles were already used in olden times as a way to measure the passing of time. The method was simple: intervals were marked along the length of the candle, each interval representing a certain amount of time. As the wax melted, the elapsed time could be measured by the interval mark that the candle had reached as it grew shorter. All it took to change a candle clock into an “alarm clock” was to embed one or more metal balls into the candle at one or more interval markings. As the the candle shortened, the melted wax released a ball which dropped onto a metal plate with a “clang” loud enough to wake you up. Some candle clocks used nails instead of metal balls. My guess is that nails made more noise. Hmm, now that’s creative!
Here’s a sort of sister to the candle alarm. The incense clock originated in ancient China and marked the passage of time with a burning stick of incense (some clocks used powdered incense). The sticks were specially made to burn evenly and slowly at a predictable rate. Along the length of the incense stick, intervals were marked. Each interval represented a certain amount of time it would take for the stick to burn down to reach it. In the alarm clock version of the incense clock, threads with small metal balls attached to their ends, were embedded into the stick at the interval markings. As the stick burned and reached an interval, the thread would break and the metal balls would drop onto a bell, gong or metal platter. Spiral sticks took longer to burn than straight ones and were used for longer range alarm planning.
3. The Knocker Up
What? A long stick as an alarm clock? How on earth…this is how it would go. An early morning riser, maybe a constable walking the morning beat, or a lamp lighter who extinguished the street lamps, or a retired person who wanted to earn a few extra pence a week would take up this part-time job. They would be called a Knocker Up, a profession that emerged in the early years of the Industrial Revolution and which last into the 1920’s before alarm clocks were affordable and reliable.
The job of a Knocker Up was to rouse his or her sleeping clients so they could wake up in time for work. Using a long stick, often made of bamboo, with an attached wire at the end, a Knocker Up would tap on a window to rouse customers at a predetermined time. Sleepers could rest assured knowing that their Knocker Up wouldn’t stop tapping until they signaled their Knocker that they were awake. Some Knocker Ups worked directly for their client sleepers, other were hired by factories to make sure their employees got to work on time. Not all Knocker Ups used a long pole-type knocker. We know of at least one that used a rubber tube as a pea shooter Pretty clever!
This was a wake-up call that was hard to miss. In the time of the Industrial Age, it was common for people to live near the factory in which they worked. Maybe one of the reasons they lived so close was to hear the whistle each morning. To rouse their workers from sleep, some factories would blow piercingly loud steam-powered whistles, announcing that it was time to come to work. What a way to start the day. Which would you prefer, the tap of the Knocker Up or the shriek of the whistle?
Estimating how long it took for a few glasses of water to “inspire” a jaunt to the rest room, was an effective wake up technique when timed right. The earlier you needed to be up, the more water you would drink. The “alarm” was quiet…no loud noises, and with a little practice the technique was dependable. It was allegedly used by Native American Indians well into the 20th century.
6. The Water Clock (Clepsydra)
It is said that the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, invented the water-powered alarm clock. He did it by modifying a water clock, an ancient device used for thousands of years by the earliest civilizations. One account describes Plato’s clock as having lead balls that hit a copper platter, sounding the alarm. Another account describes how siphoned water, rising, forced air through a whistle, which certainly got a sleeper’s attention. Plato also made a version that played flutes, a more pleasant way to wake than lead balls and whistles.
Check this video to see how a water alarm clock works.
for now that the modern alarm clock, and I mean the nice, compact, little one you place on your night table, had never been invented. Which wake-up method would you choose if you had to? Let us know which one and why.
Photo # 1 – Rooster – commons.wikimedia.org
Photo # 2 – Candle clock – raumgestalt.net
Photo # 3 – Incense alarm clock – japanese-incense.com
Photo # 4 – Knocker Up tapping on window – bigpicture.ru
Photo # 5 – Knocker Up with “pea-shooter” device – bigpicture.ru
Photo # 6 – Steam whistle
Photo # 7 – Glass of water – artelista.com
Video Credit – kotsanas.com