The Oldest Employee Time Clock

Oct 6 2022

What really is the oldest time clock? Maybe you already know about Willard Bundy, a jeweler, who patented the first employee time clock in the US back in 1888. Or his brother Harlow, who helped Willard start the Bundy Manufacturing Company.

According to this Wikipedia article, about 9,000 Bundy Time Recorders were produced and advertised as solving "vexatious questions of recording employee time". Vexatious? Now that is a great word.

The article goes on to say that Bundy Manufacturing Company over the years eventually went through a series of mergers and became part of IBM (International Business Machines). Then eventually selling to Simplex Time Recorder Company.

That's all good, but we know the Bundy's didn't invent employee time tracking, just a device that did. Very much in style with other inventors during our industrial age.

But was the Bundy Clock one of the first employee time clocks? As machines maybe, but employers have been tracking labor hours long before that.

Here is an example...

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a collection of ancient art from Asia. One piece really caught my curiosity. A Water Clock from the Western Han dynasty in China (206 B.C.–A.D. 9). Overall H. 20 5/8 in. (52.4 cm); Diam. 8 1/4 in. (20.9 cm)

Western Han dynasty Water Clock

The museum describes it having incised lines marking the divisions of time. Probably made of wood or bamboo. (although this piece is made of brass). As water drains at a constant rate, a floating gauge sinks steadily, allowing time to be read at each mark.

Okay, it's some kind of clock.

But the museum also goes on to say this... beginning in Qin times, officials were required to note the date and time of all incoming and outgoing correspondence and to record this information on the documents themselves. As such, water clocks were kept in every office throughout the empire.

Did this correspondence include time used for labor? Hmm. maybe.

– Bill