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History and Story Behind Inventions: Alarm Clock

About the story behind the invention of the alarm clock, history and biography of Levi Hutchins and his invention.

INVENTION: Alarm Clock

INVENTOR: Levi Hutchins, U.S.

YEAR: 1787

HOW INVENTED: He was a 26-year-old clock-maker in Concord, N.H., a New Englander with a Yankee conscience. He believed in being at his job on time. It was his "firm rule" to awaken at 4 A.M., whatever the season. But sometimes he slept past that hour, and was distraught the rest of the day. What he wished was a device to rouse him at the exact hour he desired to be up. In past times, people had often depended upon the sun to awaken them. But in New England, at 4 o'clock in the morning, there was no sun. Then this clockmaker looked at his shelves of clocks and was inspired. As he would write, "It was the idea of a clock that could sound an alarm that was difficult, not the execution of the idea. It was simplicity itself to arrange for the bell to sound at the predetermined hour."

He constructed a pine cabinet 29"X14", transferred the inner mechanism of one of his large brass clocks into it, inserted a pinion or gear. When "the minute hand of the clock reached and tripped the pinion" at 4 o'clock, then the "movement of the pinion set a bell in motion, and the bell made sufficient noise to awaken me almost instantly."

Hutchins lived to the age of 94. He never bothered to patent or mass-produce his alarm clock. He wasn't interested in money. He was just interested in not oversleeping. He achieved his ambition.

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