On Time National Museum of American History

Marking Time
  The Race Is On
  The Most Reliable Time
  Watches by Machine
  Like Clockwork
Prisons and Asylums
Even on Sundays
Synchronizing Time

Like Clockwork

The Industrial Revolution profoundly altered ways of work and perceptions of time. The seasonal nature and irregular hours of farm and craft tasks were supplanted by the strict regularity of factory work—organized, measured, and paid for in terms of time. A clock, controlled by factory managers, ticked out the hours, and a bell synchronized the days. Workdays were long, often twelve to fourteen hours, sometimes beginning before sunrise and stretching past sundown. Some workers appreciated the discipline required of them; others resented the relentless demands of the clock.

Factory bell
Factory bell, 19th century; used at Davis & Furber, a manufacturer of textile machinery, North Andover, Massachusetts   Ticket, 1848; to a ball sponsored by textile workers to mark the start of winter hours, when smoking oil lamps in the mill made for unpleasant working conditions

Much of the daily work on southern cotton and rice plantations was determined by the season and the duration of daylight. Patterns of work were often set by the consent or resistance of enslaved African Americans. But to a surprising degree, plantation owners relied on a clock to organize work. They expected prompt responses to bells or horns that called slaves to rise, work, or eat at regular times, and enforced time obedience with whipping or starvation. By 1860, planters were as reliant on clock-regulated work as northern factory managers.
Complete Guide to Domestic Cookery, Taste, Comfort and Economy  
Complete Guide to Domestic Cookery, Taste, Comfort and Economy, 1853; by Mrs. L. G. Abell
Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Libraries
In the decades before the Civil War, upper- and middle-class women increasingly stayed at home while their husbands went out to work. Domestic advice manuals and women's magazines urged them to assume a special role—to shape the social and moral behavior of their families by creating a haven from the outside world and by running a clock-regulated household. Women were urged to practice systematic habits in using time—especially to maintain regular mealtimes—in order to ensure the well-being of their families and, by extension, the nation.
By the 1830s, many white children were attending free public elementary schools in the United States. A ringing bell often called them to class. A classroom clock organized their lessons—among the first things they learned was how to read the clock dial. Strictly enforced schedules instilled time discipline, intended to preserve social order and moral values. Students were punished for tardiness and awarded certificates for punctuality. Time discipline was also central at specialized schools to "civilize" nonwhite children and "Americanize" adult immigrants.
School-yard bell
Wall clock
Clock-dial lesson card
School-yard bell, about 1865; used at the Lincoln School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Gift of Edward J. Ludwig III
  Wall clock, about 1880; by A. Hahl & Co., Baltimore; used in Jefferson High School, Washington, D.C.
Transfer from D.C. Board of Education
  Clock-dial lesson card, about 1830
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Arthur M. Greenwood
Framed certificate for punctuality
  American Indian students at Hampton Institute   African American students
Framed certificate for punctuality, 1844; awarded to Elizabeth Grant Davidson
Gift of Edith D. Rawlett in memory of Randolph M. Rawlett
  American Indian students at Hampton Institute, about 1880
Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives
  African American students, 1874; from Hampton and Its Students by M. F. Armstrong and H. W. Ludlow
Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Prisons and Asylums
In the late 1820s, strategies for treating criminals and those considered insane underwent major reforms. Confinement was no longer the end, but rather a means, of rehabilitation. Reformers hoped that external order—manifested in rigidly maintained daily routines of labor and isolation that were marked by ringing bells—would restore an individual's internal order.
Rules and Regulations for the Government of the Asylum for the Insane
Platter, 1829–1836; by James & Ralph Clews, Cobridge, England; featuring the penitentiary near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Gift of E. B. Larsen
  Rules and Regulations for the Government of the Asylum for the Insane, 1822; Boston

Even on Sundays
The influence of the new industrial economy reached all the way to Yankee whalers at sea. So great was the demand for whale oil that whalemen gave chase with harpoons whenever the animals were sighted—even on Sundays. They recorded their catches in a ship's log. In the 1840s, whaling became the special target of Sabbatarians, Protestant activists who believed Sundays should be devoted to God. Their pamphlet campaign was symptomatic of a larger and enduring anxiety among Protestant denominations about the growing authority of the clock and commerce over people's time.

Ship's log
Marine chronometer
Transfer from U.S. Fish Commission
Ship's log, 1845–1848; for the whaler Menerva, open to a Sunday entry
Marine chronometer, 1830s; by Arnold & Dent, London
Transfer from the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
Pamphlet, 1844; against whaling on Sunday. Sabbatarians targeted Sunday postal operations and railroad and steamboat travel as well.
Lent by Kristina Johnson
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Smithsonian National Museum of American History