Brief history of time and attendance monitoring


The next time that you swear at your alarm clock, or bemoan clocking into the workplace, be assured that you are part of a long line of time-managed humanity!

The gods confound the man who first found
How to distinguish hours! Confound him too
Who in this place set up a sundial
To cut and hack my days so wretchedly
Into small portions! When I was a boy,
My belly was my sundial: one more sure,
Truer, and more exact than any of them.
This dial told me when it was time
To go to dinner, when I had anything to eat;
But nowadays, why even when I have,
I can’t fall-to unless the sun gives leave.
The town’s so full of these confounded dials,
The greatest part of its inhabitants,
Shrunk up with hunger, creep along the

From a 2nd century AD Roman book, Attic Nights, supposedly preserving 2nd century BC words of Plautus.

Imprecise Medieval Time

In medieval times, people used devices such as water clocks and the aforementioned sundials to tell the time.

Our word ‘hour’ is descended from a Greek word which meant season. The minute and second, as units of time measurement, didn’t even see widespread use until the 17th century.

Before mechanical clocks developed, the most stringent measurer of time was the Catholic Church, which divided the day up into 8 “canonical hours.” (These still exist today, and are called the “divine office”.)

Mechanical Time Measurement Arrives

As the industrial revolution took place, the need for stricter time measurement arose. The logistics of getting raw materials to and from factories needed to be coordinated, and workers needed to be ready to start working when it arrived. The introduction of railways resulted in standardisation of time, which previously had been localised and thus was different at one end of the country to the other.

Time had been standardised and factory workers now operated in 24-hours shifts. Mechanical clocks were far more accurate than before, and could be produced relatively cheaply. Now, it was possible to check the workers’ attendance down to the minute.

Time technology advances throughout the 20th century

A jewellery from New York called Bundy was the first to record his invention of a mechanical time recorder, in 1888.

By 1909 there was a thriving industry in ‘time clocks’. Two known types were the punch-card, where the time was stamped straight onto an inserted card which could then be taken away by the employee or handed to the manager, or a more complex version where a disk or ring held all the employee numbers and an arriving or leaving worker would select his number and pull a lever. This produced printed paper with the employee number, day and time.

It wasn’t until the late 20th century that mechanical time recorders started to lose ground to electronic ones. In 1979, the first microprocessor time clock was put on sale, and in 1991 Tensor produced a smartcard-based time and attendance system.

Tempus fugit – ‘Time Flies

Originally from a 1st century Latin poem, Georgics, in the form: ‘fugit inreparabile tempus

These days, there are endless advances in time and attendance management, from different types of biometric verification to avoid the perils of buddy punching or wage fraud, to clocking systems which work on a mobile phone for today’s remote worker.

These can work in tandem with payroll software, with holiday booking, with security systems, with visitor management systems, and much more!

As long as there is a need to measure employees’ time and attendance, then we will work with technological advances to produce the best product possible. Please do get in touch about our user-friendly, comprehensive system.

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