Alarm clocks go back to the ancient Greeks. Their clocks ran on water, dripping at a consistent pace. Once the captured water reached a certain level, it would rush into a jar. As the air escaped through holes in a siphon, it created a whistling noise—the alarm.

Today when we think of antique alarm clocks, the picture in our minds looks more like a mechanical clock. The first mechanical alarm clocks were developed in Europe sometime in the 14th or 15th centuries. They were large, public clocks that chimed every hour to notify the local villagers of the time.

Alarms were first used in household mantel, wall, and grandfather clocks in the 17th century. By the 18th century, European immigrants had brought the concept of alarm clocks with them to the U.S.

One American, Levi Hutchins, is often attributed with creating the first mechanical alarm clock in 1787, but alarm clocks were already in use in Europe, so historians are not unanimous on this point. Regardless, no one denies that Hutchins did in fact create a clock that sounded an alarm at 4 a.m. daily, the hour he wished to wake up.

From then on, clockmakers put a great deal of creativity into their alarm-clock designs, trying just about everything to get their customers out of bed in the morning.

The early 19th century saw the Tugaslugabed, in which a ring attached to a string that lead to the clock was placed around the user’s toe before they fell asleep. When the alarm went off, it pulled the string, which in turn pulled on the sleeper’s toe to wake them.

That clock was kind compared to the Mr. Savage’s Alarum Bedstead, unveiled in 1851. This alarm began innocently enough, sounding a bell to wake the user. However, if it was ignor...

Around the same time, in 1847, Antoine Redier of France received a more practical patent for the first alarm clock that could be programmed by a user to go off at a specific time. In 1876, the Seth Thomas Clock Company received a patent for a bedside alarm clock.

Westclox released the Big Ben, a wind-up clock with a bell in the back, in 1908. In 1915, the smaller Baby Ben keywound alarm clock was released. With their sleek, simplistic, nickel-plated design and the bold numbers featured on their faces, the Big Ben and Baby Ben alarm clocks epitomize the Art Deco style of the time.

The Big Ben and Baby Ben were just the first of many popular clocks developed by Westclox. It released the Chime alarm in 1931, the Moonbeam in 1949, and its first snooze alarm, the Drowse, in 1959.

Westclox was one of the first alarm-clock-only companies, but many prominent clockmakers, such as Ansonia, Waterbury, and New Haven, experimented with their own alarm-clock designs.

Alarms have been placed in numerous types of clocks over the years, such as German cuckoo clocks that chirp or play music, elaborately painted antique banjo clocks, and advertising clocks promoting everything from Corvettes to Coca-Cola to Disney.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]

Bill Stoddard's clock history site offers a trove of great reference information on clock and watch makers includin… [read review or visit site]

National Maritime Museum

National Maritime Museum

Check out this sampling of nautical and maritime items held by the U.K.'s National Maritime Museum and Royal Observ… [read review or visit site]

Dan and Diana's Lux Clock Collection

Dan and Diana's Lux Clock Collection

Dan and Diana Lockett's amazing collection of several hundred novelty Lux clocks made by the Lux Clock Manufacturin… [read review or visit site]

Detex Watchman's Clock Album

Detex Watchman's Clock Album

Philip Haselton's guide to watchmen's time recording equipment. Includes 19th century German portables, 20th centur… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Lovely Antique Oak Seth Thomas Parlor Gingerbread Shelf Mantle Alarm ClockVintage Angelus Kamadate Swiss Day Date 8 Day 15j Alarm Mechanical Travel ClockCartier Santos Cartier Alarm Clock Steel No Reserve & Brand New!!!!!!Antique Mantel Clock German Alarm Clock 19th * Junghans Lambert Liege *Antique Mantel Clock German Clock Alarm Clock Vintage German Florn Wind Up Animated Bird Song Alarm Clock With Chirping BirdVintage Lecoultre Alarm ClockVintage Ingersoll Mickey Mouse Alarm ClockScarce Early Mickey Mouse Alarm Clock Bayard France 1930-50 Red Near Mint DisneyCookie Time Alarm Clock Cookie Jar By Treasure Craft As Seen On Friends Tv ShowCartier Alarm Clock With Box, Vintage, Lapis Blue, Swiss MadeVintage Bulova Wind Up Alarm Clock Made In GermanyLot Of Vintage Alarm Clocks-sessions, Looping, Lux, Seth Thomas, Sheffield, N.r.Rare Antique Junghans Musical Alarm German Carriage Clock Repairmans Parts Vintage Panasonic Rc7469- Am/fm Flip Number Snooze/alarm Clock Radio WorksRare Vintage Lecoultre 8 Day Transparent Travel Desk - Alarm ClockAntique Westclox Big Ben Wind Up Alarm Clock From 1919 Works!!!! Vintage Imhof Bucherer Swiss Musical Alarm/carriage Mantle Clock Bronze/brassJaeger Lecoultre Recital 8 Brass Table Windup Clock W/ Alarm For Parts #108Cartier Alarm Clock Brown GoldImhof Brass Alarm ClockVintage Bradley 1980 Star Wars Talking Alarm Clock R2-d2 & C-3po (not Working)Jaeger Lecoultre Memovox Alarm Clock 8 Day Vintage Swiss Luxury BrassVintage Black Copal Flip Number Alarm Clock Model 227 - Made In Japan Nib Nos !Vintage Metal Steel Big Ben Shelf Alarm Clock Green Great Shape Works Quartz Nr Vintage Bulova Alarm Clock With Hydrometer And TemperatureTiffany & Co. Vintage Alarm Clock 8 Day 15 Jewels RunningVintage Looping Swiss 15 Jewels Alarm Clock 8 Day WorkingVintage Panasonic Rc-6493 Flip Clock Radio With Alarm & Calendar Working Vg CondVintage 1950 Roy Rogers & Trigger Animated Motion Alarm Clock WorksVintage Mid Century Westclox Alarm Clock – Atomic, Boomerang, Wood, BrassAntique Ingraham Mantle Clock Movement With AlarmTiffany & Co. Boudoir Alarm Clock 10 Day Beautifully EnameledAntique Spasmodic Waterbury 1918 Alarm Clock Shelf Dresser Vintage Old RetroVintage Swiss Angelus 15 Jewels Folding Travel Alarm Clock 8 Day. As Is Vintage Swiss Made Semca Musical Travel Alarm ClockRare Jaeger Le Coultre Swiss Musical Alarm Clock-petite Neuchateloise - As IsSmokey Bear Alarm Clock Made In GermanySwiss Brass Looping 15 Jewels 8 Day Alarm ClockSessions Seth Thomas Occidental Gingerbread Clock W/ Alarm Runs As Is ShownCartier Desk Alarm Clock, Black Enamel And Gold, Swiss MadeAntique Seth Thomas Alarm ClockAntique " Lux Clock Mfg Co " Lebanon Tenn Scenic Windup Alarm ClockVtg Yellow Mod Magnavox Alarm Clock Am Radio Mcm Works Antique Royal Mail Ship "ausonia" Bed-side Alarm Clock Vintage Nib Westclox Baby Ben Alarm Clock No. 334 Luminous Ivory DirectionsVintage Westclox Dura Model 61-c 401 Art Deco Alarm Clock Jaeger Lecoultre Recital 8 Brass Table Windup Clock W/ Alarm As/is But WorksSeth Thomas Antique Cast Wind Up Mantel Alarm Clock With Bell And Glass FrontVintage Guardier 8 Day Weather Station Alarm Clock Barometer Thermometer Hygro Mod '69 Penneys Travel Alarm Clock Transistor Radio Toshiba 3459~nm In Box WorksJaeger Lecoultre Recital 8 Alarm Clock Gilt 8 Days With Leather Case No ReserveLecoultre Vintage Travel Alarm Clock Folding 8 Day Swiss EstateMint: Arne Jacobsen Table Alarm Clock “city Hall”Vintage Westclox Baby Ben Alarm Clock 61 VVintage Seth Thomas Alarm Clock Shelf Mantel ClockEuropa Sunburst Desk Alarm Clock 9.8 Inch Vintage 8day/ 7 Jewels! German.Vintage Westclox Big Ben 1944-56 Chime Alarm Clock With & BoxWestclox Alarm Clock Nautical Ship Wheel Swank Clock Triangle Clock Lot Of 3 VtgVintage Panasonic Flip Clock Radio Alarm Rc-6002 Am Fm 1970's Tested / Works