The first alarm clock in America


For the Monitor

Published: 06-24-2023 1:00 PM

Our early Concord ancestors knew both the value and rewards of hard work. The earliest settlers in our community would never have survived if they did not produce their own food, shelter and clothing. With the original grant by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the settlement of Pennycook Plantation was established and people continued to arrive in the coming years in search of opportunity for their families. As a necessity the early settlers would hunt, fish, and farm, practicing preservation of food for the cold New Hampshire winters. This lifestyle afforded our ancestors a schedule that was certainly a natural cycle of work and sleep. The farmers would rise early to capture the rising sun and work with intense hard labor until the late afternoon shadows robbed them of their daylight. With the extreme labor they would exhaust themselves and retire to bed early to rise once again the next morning. This system was quite commonplace and supported this lifestyle very well until their world changed.

People living in Concord as well as elsewhere were very satisfied with their routines. In the name of opportunity and profit we find people in both Europe and the United States automating production to enhance output and profits. Factories were being built and the Industrial Revolution was born in 1760, continuing for a period of over sixty years. The new factories arrived and waterpower was harnessed here in New Hampshire. The large brick factories were built and automation began. One of the largest concerns during the Industrial Revolution centered around the need for labor. The buildings were large, the power available, and systems were established to produce products such as textile at a very rapid rate.

The key concern for the factories involved methods to provide as many people as possible. The factories looked to their communities and offered a low wage with long hours, but steady employment that would allow them to leave the life on the farm behind. Many young men and woman seeking adventure and social enhancement would travel to the large cities such as Manchester, New Hampshire, and join the ranks of the factory workers at the textile mills. When more people were needed, people were recruited from places like Ireland where there was a potato famine and extreme poverty. My very own Great Great Grandfather Martin Spain and his brothers Michael, Thomas and James were, in fact, lured to the United States from Ireland because they had suffered during the famine. There were people representing the United States factory owners overseas to secure willing laborers from places like Ireland as indentured servants. My Great Great Grandfather and his brothers signed a contract while still in Ireland in the late 1840’s to become indentured servants here in the United States in exchange for relief in the form of free passage aboard a ship with meals provided. The Spain brothers traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to the port in Boston and then to Manchester, New Hampshire to work in the mills for a couple of years to pay their debt in the form of labor. This was a very common method of obtaining the needed labor to run the factories while providing the only means possible to the immigrants to resolve their concerns of survival.

Once the farmers became factory workers, they found their natural cycle of working and sleep to be somewhat disrupted. The factories brought the farmers from the fields on the farms to the inside of massive brick buildings along the rivers. The factories did have gas lighting to illuminate interiors as well as power provided by the Merrimack River to run the textile machines. This resulted in the factories requiring the men, women and young children to work from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. with limited resources. The long hours created fatigue that prompted horrific accidents and even death in many cases. The people were not afforded the basic safety and working conditions that they so desperately needed. With this fatigue, the factory workers would have to awaken early in the morning and work until the early evening, only to nourish themselves and fall into bed in anticipation of the more labor the next day. This cycle continued six days per week with the only down time being the day of Sabbath.

Many of the workers quickly realized their dilemma but were indeed victims of this endless cycle without many options. My family members working in the Manchester factories as indentured servants knew that they would be free within a couple of years and left for Concord when they were allowed. Concord was experiencing the onset of the granite trade and quarries needed labor to establish this business further.

With the sleep cycle of the American Farmer disrupted due to the Industrial Revolution we find people enjoying a night of slumber oversleeping. The natural cycle was indeed difficult for many to restore and the roosters could not crow loud enough to awaken some of the tired people in Concord. This was both a problem and an opportunity that a local gentleman decided to address very early in the Industrial Revolution. It was in the year 1787 that a local man named Levi Hutchins invented the very first Alarm Clock in America right here in Concord.

Levi Hutchins was born on August 17th, 1761 in Harvard, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the military in April, 1775 and served as a Fifer under the command of his father during the American Revolutionary War and witnessed the burning of Charlestown, Massachusetts by the British. In September, 1775 Hutchins again enlisted to fight the British in Captain Lewis’ Company and marched to New York in the spring of 1776. With his enlistment period over, he departed the military and returned to his family now living in Concord, New Hampshire. Levi was a very intelligent young man and sought an apprenticeship along with his brother Abel. In 1777 Levi and Abel started their apprenticeships as clockmakers under Simon Willard for a period of three years with additional training in Abington, Connecticut. Once completed, the two new clockmakers returned to Concord, New Hampshire and set up a shop on Main Street, enjoying a successful business and establishing families.

Levi continued to think about the natural sleep cycle and the need for people to wake up on time to go to work. There were already various alarm clocks in Europe but there had been no valid attempt here in America. With deep thought, planning and the desire to succeed, Levi Hutchins designed and constructed the very first alarm clock in America right here in Concord, New Hampshire. The alarm clock certainly had its limitations but did work quite nicely for those that needed prompting at an early hour. The alarm clock was housed in a 29” x 14” wooden cabinet made of pine. There were mirrored doors and an extra gear was added to allow the time to be set. In the case of Levi Hutchins, he desired to wake up every morning at 4:00 a.m., so he built his own clock and permanently set the time to 4:00 a.m. Once another alarm clock was constructed the time could never be changed – so if you purchased the American Alarm Clock from Levi Hutchins, it would forever awaken you at the time set at purchase.

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Levi Hutchins did marry Phoebe Hannaford here in Concord, and their union produced ten children. He eventually purchased eighty acres of land and built his home near Long Pond in the West Parish. Levi served his country, he served his community and he was certainly never late a day in his shop down on Main Street in Concord, New Hampshire.