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Tuesday, February 24, 2009
The Modern Machine
My good friend is an industrial scientist - he just sent me an email with the following quote:
The clock, not the steam engine, is the key-machine of the modern industrial age. Lewis Mumford (1895-1990)
He wanted a horologist's view on the statement.
I immediately thought of how modern industry is so inextricably geared towards efficiency. The quote brought to mind Fritz Lang's movie Metropolis... I thought of New York's subway system and automated assembly lines and factories all timed to work much like a clock.
The clock is of course not an 'invention' of the modern industrial age though. To me, the horological development that would have made the clock so important to the modern work force and efficiency planning is the minute hand - which is credited to appear at about 1475.
But then again, if you consider the importance of travel (which leads to discovery and trade) then you can't overlook the impact of John Harrison's work in developing a clock accurate enough to aid in navigation. His "H5" was completed in 1761- that counts as the modern era. Without the ability to reliably find longitude it doesn't matter if you have a steam engine or not - you would steam around in circles, or arrive horribly off course.
An interesting side note: American clockmaker Eli Terry is credited with using an automated assembly line with interchangeable parts to create cheap clocks in 1802-1816 - soon after Eli Whitney used these techniques of the industrial revolution to make guns for the young American army. Eli Terry used water power and wooden jigs to replace the work of skilled craftsmen.