Object: table clock
A machine that creates order: table clock, circa 1820
Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Leipzig, Photograph: Michael Setzpfandt


The A-Z of industrialisation

The clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men. The clock, not the steam-engine, is the key machine of the modem industrial age.

Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization, 1934

Chronometers, time-keeping devices or clocks provide an abstract framework for coordinating procedures of all kinds. The uniformly rhythmic measurement of time that passes irrespective of day or night, summer or winter, urban or rural environment, allows for the successful operation of railway systems (Networks), factories (Factory) and universities (Science). 

Clocks dominated the age of industrialisation: With their striking mechanism, mechanical clocks divide time, in summer as in winter, into two sets of twelve hours each of equal duration; they are used to measure time spent and help to organise daily routines and facilitate cooperation. The historian of technology Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) ascribed a key role to clocks in modern industrial capitalism.