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The ability to track time has always been an important part of human life. Whether tracking the sun in the sky, using a sundial or measuring time with the use of a candle, humans have always had the innate need to monitor the passing of time. As the centuries have gone on, our ability to keep time has evolved significantly, allowing us to make detailed records with pinpoint accuracy. 

However, the act of keeping time isn’t now and has never been strictly about monitoring its passage. We use timepieces to send messages of opulence, increase our efficiency, and to help us manage our personal activity. Whether in the 18th century or our modern era, timekeeping is an inexorable part of the human experience.

Timepieces as a Status Symbol

While today telling the time is as easy as pulling out your phone, things were much different in the 18th century. The availability of timepieces was essentially limited to the upper class, where you would generally only see pocket watches and exquisite clocks in the homes of the wealthy. For the masses, the best option (other than sundials) was to wait for public announcements of the time.


Owning a pocket watch or grandfather clock was a way to express that one was wealthy in the 18th century. In a lot of ways, this has not changed much even today. For those inclined who have the funds to do so, a modern watch can be purchased for tens of thousands of dollars, even though our access to the time is nearly ubiquitous thanks to smartphones and other technologies present in day to day life. The irony here is that these modern, extremely expensive timepieces are often no more accurate than the clocks one might find in the 18th century.


The advent of atomic clocks in the 1950’s essentially rendered all previous timekeeping measures obsolete, as atomic clocks are so much more accurate than mechanical clocks. However, an appreciation for the craftsmanship put into the creation of a watch or clock continues to fascinate and inspire humanity to keep this anachronistic anomaly alive.

Timekeeping and the Effect on Work

Another commonality between how timekeeping functioned in the 18th century and today is how we implement it in our working lives. The old adage that time is money is as true today as it was centuries ago, and a more efficient work schedule translates directly to an increase in earning potential. However, it is not all about profit, but about innovations in safety as well.


In the early 1700’s, ships often ran aground due to inaccuracies in their navigational tools that used time to measure longitude. In 1735, John Harrison built a marine chronometer that he continued to work on for many years in order to perfect it. By the time he had finished his final design, it had improved immensely on the accuracy of previous models and was accurate within 5 seconds. This improved safety immensely for seafaring enterprise, allowing them to know where they were anywhere in the ocean if they had the appropriate tools.


While this is an example of an extreme instance of timekeeping affecting the workplace, even today timekeeping remains incredibly important. From logging workers hours accurately to developing product management tools that improve on a business’ ability to function, tracking time with precision is vital to the functions of the business world.

How We Live With Time Today

In the 18th century, life could be incredibly tough. People would travel from town to town selling and trading random wares that they had either produced or acquired as “trunk peddlers”. They lacked the ability to accurately track the time it took to manufacture these goods versus how much they could net in profit from selling them while traveling, often resulting in little to no return on their time investment.


Today, life is a bit more fast-paced than it was in the 18th century. We are all constantly connected through the internet or through our mobile phones, and because of this, it can seem as though there is never enough time in a day. While our 18th-century counterparts may have worked significantly harder with their time, modern humanity is lucky enough to have plenty of tools at their fingertips to effectively manage their time. Because of this ability to manage our time down to the minute, we are now able to use our time more effectively and has given us a more rounded idea as to what our time is actually worth.


Had folks in the 18th century had access to calendar apps with notifications and task timing apps, who knows how much more impactful the industrial revolution could have been. The saying “stop and smell the roses” is popular, and with modern advancements in timekeeping, we are able to schedule in our rose-smelling time easily.


About Author

Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.