The 2013 NAWCC Ward Francillon Time Symposium and Special Exhibition of Spectacular Clocks, Watches, and Sundials
by The Pre-Eminent Master
Thomas Tompion (1639–1713)

California Institute of Technology Pasadena, California

7-9 November 2013

James Nye

Visiting Fellow, Institute of Contemporary British History, King’s College London, and Council Member and Secretary, Electrical Timekeeping Group of the Antiquarian Horological Society (U.K.)

From Bain to Shortt: Electrical Timekeeping, 1840–1940

  • Biography
  • Presentation
  • Further Information
  • James Nye first learned clock repair as a teenager at school in Sussex, England, and was put in charge of its Gent master clock system. With a first degree in theology from Balliol College, Oxford, he pursued a career in finance and commerce in the City of London. More recently, he completed a Ph.D. in financial history at King’s College London, to complement a long-term interest in the history and financing of technology, particularly in the field of timekeeping. He is a Council Member of the Antiquarian Horological Society and Secretary of its Electrical Timekeeping Group. Other clock-related affiliations include a life membership in the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors and membership in the British Horological Institute in the U.K., the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Chronometrie in Germany, and Chronometrophilia in Switzerland. For publications, etc. see http://tinyurl.com/nye-pubs.
    From the 1840s onwards a number of visionary engineers, often with expertise in telegraphy, devised a range of techniques for powering clock mechanisms for long periods without interruption, at the same time refining the stability and accuracy of their machines. But these same inventors shared a vision of timekeeping not restricted to single devices, but capable of being transmitted simultaneously at a distance. The development of electrical timekeeping, and its distribution, ran alongside the movement towards the standardization of time zones, the accurate time management of factory practice, scientific advances in fields ranging from astronomy to psychology that required precision metrology, and the requirement for accurate time in broader fields of commerce and public life. A tension emerged between the promoters of these new electrical clock systems and the makers/maintainers of traditional mechanical clocks, finding its strongest expression between 1900 and the Great War. There was no rapid technological revolution in which electrical timekeeping supplanted mechanical options, and the commercial outcome was far from positive for many of the newcomers. Nor was there a uniform belief on the part of the newcomers as to which systems were superior – for many manufacturers the marketplace was fiercely contested. The century from Hipp’s first steps with electric clocks in the 1840s to the transition from pendulum clocks to quartz timekeepers in the Second World War witnessed the competitive struggle between a range of different and fascinating solutions to problems in achieving uniform accurate time. James Nye will illuminate both the mainstream elements of that struggle and some of the lesser-known tributaries that are not often seen.