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    

Vintage Jaeger Lecoultre Japanese Fishing Boat Fish Dial 8 Day Swiss Alarm ClockVintage Art Deco French 1930's 'jaz' Small Chrome Desk Alarm Clock.™C1890 German Carriage Travel Alarm Clock Wecker Brass Case Drp & Gm NrSwiza Alarm Clock Fantastic Brand New Montblanc Pix Travel Alarm Clock Table Watch Huge BoxJaeger Lecoultre 8 Days Desk Alarm Clock - C1960Vintage Novelty Swiza 8 Swiss Aladdins Oil Lamp Travel/alarm/bedside ClockVintage Big Ben Peg Leg Alarm Clock Westclox Round Clock Wind UpFrench Art Deco - Jaz Bakelite Desk Alarm Clock - C1930Vintage Cartier 15 Jewel Travel Alarm Clock W/ Fitted Case No ReserveVintage1920's Ingraham Alarm Clock Peg Leg Ward's Old Reliable 8 Day Wind Up Antique Mantel Clock-union Clock Company-ucc Clock-key Wind-alarm-steeple-l@@k!Lot Of 6 Antique Kitchen Alarm Clock Movements Parts RepairExcellent Original Ingraham Candy Strip Doric 30 Hour T&s W/alarm Shelf ClockSwiza 8 Day Swiss Wind-up Brass Alarm Clock Works Strong!Vintage 1959 Luxor Brass Desk / Alarm Clock W/ Box & Paperwork Form LucerneOriginal Lux Animated Alarm Clock With Spinning WheelAntique New Haven Octagon Case 30 Hour Wall Ships Marine Alarm Clock Vintage Antique Lenzkirch Aug German Small Wrecker Carriage Travel Alarm ClockCartier Gold Tone & Burgundy Travel Desk Quartz Alarm Clock (2562)Lecoultre Swiss 8 Day Alarm Clock, Barometer, Thermometer, Desk/travel Model1922 Indian Motorcycle Free Demonstration Alarm Clock In Working Condition RareAntique Ansonia Brass Carriage Alarm Clock--projectOval Alarm 8 Day 24k Gold Plated Carriage Clock--new!!Retro Owl Alarm Clock Moving Eyes Ticking Vintage Tic Toc Diamond Wind Up RareAntique / Vintage Tempus Fugit Swiss Made Miniature Grandfather Alarm Clock VgcVintage Ge Alarm Clock #7h154 Art Deco Bakelite "chantilly" Opa Base Mark Lot Antique Waterbury Carriage Clock W/ Alarm Parts / Repair Steampunk NrToshiba 6tc-485 6transistor Radio/clock/alarm Travel Set - Blue/greyLot B Vintage Antique Gilbert Kitchen Shelf Clock Gingerbread With AlarmVintage Art Deco French 1930's 'jaz' Small Chrome & Bakelite Desk Alarm Clock.Antique 1927 Westclox Baby Ben Alarm Crackle Paint, Dreyfuss Des.Vintage Art Deco French 1930's Jaz 'cubic' Chrome Travelling Alarm Clock.Vintage Lux Clock "gabriel" Alarm Clocks [3]Rare Vintage Ingraham Commander Radium Wind Up Alarm Clock Shabby Chic Art DecoBulova Alarm Clock Made In Germany Works Perfectly Copper Brass LookAntique Badische German Carriage Music Clock Music Box AlarmVintage Cyma Amic 8 Day Deco Alarm Clock & Pen Rest For SparesPretty New Haven Alarm Clock With Rhinestones On Front, 1930s, Needs RepairVtg 1960s Mid Century Sheffield German Lucite Acrylic Ball Globe Alarm ClockVintage Ge General Electric Clock 1945 Bakelite Model 7h154 Alarm Model Curved1953 Zenith Telechron Alarm Clock Tube Radio Brown Model 6l03 WorksTiffany Co Folding Travel Alarm Clock Rare Antique Victorian 1890s 1900s Gilbert Alarm Clock!! Working!!Vintage French 1950's 'jaz' De-luxe 8 Day 11 Jewel Brass Alarm Clock.Ansonia Alarm Clock, Old Peg Leg TypeVintage Mechanical Singing Bird Alarm Clock Rare Antique Victorian 1900s Ansonia "pirate" Alarm Clock!! Working!!Vintage 1933 Westclox Baby Ben Alarm Clock....dreyfuss Design, Black & Nickel2 Westclox Baby Ben Style 4 Alarm Clocks, Made In 1937 And 1939, Needing RepairVntg.talking Charlie Chaplin Alarm Clock-bubbles Inc, Rhythm Quartz Clock 1989Vintage 1930's Ingraham Wind Up Alarm Clock Non Working Vintage Jaeger Lecoultre Musical Alarm Clock-works WellVintage Big Ben Alarm Clock, Made In Usa, Westclox, Key Wind Wind-up, Never UsedWestclox Big Ben Footed Wind-up Alarm Clock With 22k Gold Finish, Made In Usa!Swiza Sheffield Clock, Jewelled 8 Day Alarm, Swiss MadeMc Serch. Ecko Unltd. Legends Talking Alarm ClockNew Zippo Time Tank Alarm Pocket Clock Popeye Limited Edition With BoxAc21 Vtg Sessions Gingerbread Butterfly Pendulum Kitchen Clock Alarm Runs No Key