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  • Alvin Chong

Reading List: Time Consciousness and Discipline in the Industrial Revolution

A look at how the Industrial Revolution gave rise to modern perceptions of time.


Last year, I wrote a story for SJX Watches titled “Time Consciousness and Discipline in the Industrial Revolution”. It explores how the perception of time in our modern capitalistic societies can be invariably traced to the outset of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century.

During that period, time became synonymous with profit as labour shifted from rural agriculture to monotonous factories thanks to the development of new manufacturing technologies such as the steam engine and the power loom. This is a notion that continues to be held today, as we often hear the adage that “time is money.”

Industrial factory workers. Image: History Crunch.

Consequently, society transited from “task-orientation” to “time-orientation” where timekeeping became increasingly implemented across all aspects of society. Punctuality was seen as a virtue, and there were all sorts of things to ensure it was maintained such as the knocker-upper profession and the invention of the time clock. Clocks and pocket watches also proliferated and became more affordable as mass production advanced. This was owed to the efforts of companies such as Waltham Watch Company; after developing new machines and techniques, the company could exponentially increase the production of pocket watches from 14,000 in 1858 to 180,000 by 1865.

Knocker-uppers like this man would use long sticks to tap on the windows of clients to wake them up. Image: J. Gaiger/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images.
A peek inside the American Waltham Watch Company factory in the late 1800s. Image: Digital Commonwealth.
Split-seconds chronograph pocket watch from American Waltham Watch Company, circa 1886. Image: Christie’s.

As timekeeping was instrumental in regulating the processes of the Industrial Revolution and ensuring that profits were made, as well as the increased preoccupation with it, American historian Lewis Mumford noted that “the clock, not the steam engine, is the key machine of the modern industrial age.”


You may read the full article here at SJX Watches.



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