How Did People Wake Up Before Modern Alarm Clocks?

The need to know exactly what time it is or to be sure you arrive on time is an ancient one.  In our modern society, it’s hard to imagine not knowing the current time and when the next appointment is and if you’re going to be on time or not.  Knowing the current time and being alerted when you have something to do seems as commonplace as eating or sleeping.  Its just part of our lives.

That wasn’t always the case and before our world of modern technology people went to great lengths to be alerted to the current time or make sure they woke up to make it work.  Here are some of the more common ways this was done:

1. Bladder Control

The call of nature is a strong one – when you gotta go you wake up and go.  Back in the olden days, a man would drink tons and tons of water to make sure they woke up and had to go.  That was an effective way to work with what you got.  This custom of over drinking was common across the world.

Water Clocks2. Water Clocks

A very common form of clock in ancient times was also driven by water.  The water clock or Clepsydra was a timer versus a clock but it allowed for a relatively reliable form of measuring the passage of time in a similar fashion to a sand driven hourglass.  The very basic water clock was eventually developed into more and more complex forms.  Ctesibius of Alexandria around 245 B.C. started to rework the basic water dripping into a more mechanical form.  The water would flow into various vessels that would indicate hours or other increments of time.  When a vessel would fill up an “alarm” could go off that would basically be the water pushing something into something else to make a sound.  These water clocks became more elaborate and varied throughout the world including the Islamic world, Korea, Persia and more.

Religious Wake-Up Calls3. Religious Wake-Up Calls

In Christian societies, bells would ring our for morning prayers at the church.  And they would often mark the various key times throughout the day.  In many early Christian societies, bells called churchgoers to prayer in the morning. Religious bells also served to mark the passage of time throughout the day before people wore watches. In the Islamic world, prayers would be audibly prayed at specific times.

The Knocker-Up4. The Knocker-Up

At one point in time, you could make a living ensuring people woke up on time.  Before it was affordable or feasible for everyone to have a clock with an alarm, you could hire someone to make sure you woke up.  These people were called the Knocker-Up or Knocker-Upper.  As the industrial revolution grew it was more and more important for workers to show up on time to make sure the factories ran efficiently.  The Knocker-Up would be paid to wake up their customers at specified times.

5. The Factory Whistle

At the dawn of The Industrial Age, workers lived around the factory at which they worked, and would wake at the sound of the factory whistle. Steel and textile mills drew in farmers from the countryside, and like that, ding-ding, the clock ruled the roost. Time was always money. But now time could also be regulated more easily. Work was no longer driven by the season; rather it was divided into units of time. It was the factory whistle, not the rising sun or the chirping birds that called people to work.

Roosters7. Roosters

Every day at daybreak the rooster crows.  Simple, efficient and if you live on a farm easy to have available.

8. Candle Clock and Alarm

Candle Clock and Alarm

Candles would be burned and have specific markings that would mark the passage of time.  As the candle burned down one could determine roughly how much time had passed. In the 18th century, the concept of using a candle as an alarm was invented.  When a standard mechanical clock would hit a certain hour a flint would strike and light a candle which would provide light to wake up the sleepy dreamer.

9. Weight-Driven Alarm Clocks

As mechanical clocks developed that were driven by the pull of gravity on weight, as the clock mechanism would work if a specific time was met a pin placed in the clock would trigger an alarm.
In ancient times knowing the time was a general concept.  It was entirely dependent on looking up at the sky and knowing roughly where the position of the sun or moon was at.  As humans began to advance in technology various methods were developed to know the time.  As mechanical advances continued mechanical clocks were developed.  The wealth (kings, churches, businesses and government entities) could afford clocks for general use.  Then the wealthy were able to  have clocks which advance to the point where we are today with the time being available everywhere.  We can even determine time down to the smallest fraction and accuracy with atomic clocks.