Time: Humanity’s Greatest Invention


Time is a fascinating invention since it fundamentally changed the way humans live. Before the 16th century, clocks were horrible. Typically, there was one large mechanical clock in the centre of a town or a city and it had to reset daily. However, by the end of the day, the clocks would be off by twenty minutes. During this time, time was more of a rough estimate and since nobody really used time as we use in today’s modern society, it was not really an issue.


The only time where people needed accurate clocks were when people started to voyage across the world by sea or when trains were invented. The best way for ships to calculate their locations was to have two clocks; one with the time of the ship’s origin and one with the current time which was calculated by the sundial. With every four minutes of difference between the two clocks, you would know that you traveled for about 68 miles (110 kilometers).


However, there was a problem. The problem was with the accuracy of the clocks. Just like the mechanical clocks in town centres, at the end of the day, the origin clocks were off by twenty minutes. Therefore, this method was useless and it would be more of a guessing game after a couple of days.


In order to combat this problem, the Pendulum clock was invented by Galileo Galilei. This new type of clock was amazingly accurate. After a week after being set, it would only be off by about a minute.


Many people say that with the invention of the Pendulum clock, the industrial revolution would not have been possible since you could now tell someone to meet you at a certain time and they would actually be there. In addition, voyage by sea was easier since ships could now use these clocks for accurate navigation.


Not only did it innovate people’s lives and start the industrial revolution, it also changed the way people worked. Before the Pendulum clock, people were paid for how much they made instead of the amount of time they worked. For example, if a person made ten things, the person would be paid ten dollars.


However, after the invention of trains, this introduced a new problem. During this era, many people still used the sundial. This meant that every town would have a different time. In one town, it could be 10:30 and in the next town, it could be 10:35. Across the United States, there were thousands, if not millions of different local times. However, with the newly invented railroad, nobody knew when trains came and left. The railroad might use one time, while the origin town used another, and the destination town used another time.


Therefore, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) was born, and with the new time zones, things improved. However, with the implementation of the time zones, the strangest days accrued. For example, the new eastern time zone ran four minutes before the time New York had been using. For this reason, after the clock struck noon, four minutes later, the clock struck noon again.


Towards the beginning of the twentieth century, Pierre Curie and Jaques Curie found that when electricity is applied to quartz, it vibrates at an incredibly stable rate. Knowing that quartz vibrates 32,768, clockmakers used this quartz to make amazingly accurate clocks.


Just as the Pendulum clocks allowed the industrial revolution, the quartz clock allowed the digital revolution since, without quartz clocks, all of the modern technology in the last century would not have been possible. An accurate clock is needed to coordinate all of the different microprocessors. With these extremely accurate clocks, it allowed many other inventions such as the GPS and the atomic clock.