Why Time is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

Before the 16th century, clocks were horrible.
Typically there was one large mechanical clock in the center of any town which would be reset
daily, but by the end of the day these would be off by as much as 20 minutes. Time was
but a rough estimate, but nobody really had a problem with this since there was no expectation
of accuracy. At the time, there was no real need for accurate clocks in daily life. The
need for more accurate clocks came about when explorers started to voyage across the world
by sea. The best way for ships to calculate their locations was to have two clocks—one
with the time of the ships origin and one with the current time as calculated by a sundial.
With every four minutes of difference between the two times, you would know that you had
travelled about 68 miles (one degree of longitude). The problem with this method was with the
accuracy of the clocks. Much like the clocks in town centers, the origin clocks were off
by up to 20 minutes by the end of one day, so this method was useless after a few days
of travel. This stifled exploration, so governments around the world offered prizes equivalent
to millions of dollars to anyone who could design an accurate clock.
That’s where Galileo comes into play. Legend has it that in 1583, a 19 year old Galileo
was bored while attending prayers at the Duomo of Pisa, so he started watching the hanging
lamps up above. He noticed that, as they swung back and forth, the lamps always took the
exact same amount of time to complete one swing. No matter if they swung one foot or
one inch, the swing would take the exact same amount of time. 58 years later, this property
was used to make a pendulum clock. Properly weighted, a pendulum could be designed to
swing once per second, and the clocks would use the swinging weight to keep time. This
clock was amazingly accurate—a week after being set, it would only be off by as much
as a minute. 100 years after it’s invention, the pendulum clock was in every house. Many
argue that, without this invention, the industrial revolution would not have been possible. You
could now tell someone to meet you at an exact time and they would actually be there at that
time. Ships could now use these accurate clocks for accurate navigation, and this meant that
it was no longer risky to send ships regularly to buy and sell goods across the world. Accurate
time also changed the way people worked. Before the pendulum clock, people only worked for
results—by the end of the day they were paid for how much they made instead of how
much they worked. With the clock workers worked for an amount of time, and they were paid
by the hour. With the new production boom, manufacturers demanded a method of fast and
cheap shipping, and so the railroad was born, but this introduced a new problem. Time was
still dictated by the sun. Each town would calculate the local time based upon the location
of the sun in the sky, but this meant that from one town to the next, the time would
be different. In one town it could be 8:10 and in the next town over it would be 8:15.
Both times were correct for the two locations, so this didn’t really cause a problem since
it would take hours to get to that next town over. Across the United States, there were
thousands of different local times. However, with the newly invented railroad, people could
get from one town to the next quickly, but nobody knew when trains really left since
everyone used a different time. The railroad might use one time, while the origin town
would use another, and the destination town would have a completely different one. Britain
solved this problem by creating a standardized time—Greenwich Mean Time—and transmitting
that time across the country by telegraph. The US decided that, with it’s huge size,
a standard time zone would not work, so four different time zones were mapped out. Much
like Britain, the standard time would be transmitted across the country by telegraph. The implementation
of this new time zone, however, created one of the stranger days in human history. The
new eastern time zone ran four minutes behind the time that New York had been using, so
on Sunday, November 18, 1883, the clocks struck noon, then four minutes later, the clocks
struck noon again as the new time standard was implemented.
The next great innovation in timekeeping came towards the beginning of the 20th century.
Pierre and Jacques Currie, two French physicists, noticed that when electricity was applied
to quartz, it vibrates at a incredibly stable rate. Knowing that quartz vibrates 32,768
times a second, clockmakers used this crystal to make incredibly accurate clocks. These
quartz clocks were able to go a month only loosing or gaining 15 seconds. Just as the
pendulum clock allowed for the industrial revolution, the quartz clock allowed for the
technological revolution. Without quartz clocks, modern computers would have been impossible.
An accurate internal clock is needed to coordinate all the different microprocessors. With these
new accurate clocks however, people also began to notice that the earth’s rotation wasn’t
all that regular. It deviated by a few seconds here and there. In the 1950’s the first
super-accurate atomic clocks were built—measuring time based upon the decay of atomic elements,
and this allowed an International Conference of Weights and Measures to change what time
was in 1967. They decided that a day was no longer one rotation of the earth—a day was
now 86,400 atomic seconds. Since the time it takes for the earth to rotate is not exactly
86,400 atomic seconds, we make up for this by having leap days and leap seconds every
once in a while. The atomic-clock also allowed for nano-second
accuracy, and this is actually pretty important for many modern technologies—most notably
the GPS. GPS works by asking three different satellites the time based upon their onboard
atomic clocks. When the answer comes back, each time will be slightly different on a
nano-second level due to satellites being at different distances and the request for
the time going out at only the speed of light, so the GPS, knowing the location of the satellites
based upon their extremely predictable orbits, can figure out where it is.
So that’s how time developed. Hopefully you now see how the human conception of time
was essential for the development of our modern world and can still be called one of humanity’s
greatest inventions.

100 Responses

  1. Jonathan Martin says:

    Terrible presentation

  2. ianericson says:

    And speaking of time it’ll take you only 30 seconds to sign up for audibles——oh wait

  3. Star Grabbitz says:

    Wasn’t time discovered not invented? We just invented a way to measure it.

  4. Alexander Vorslov says:

    A nice video, just one thing to point out: the need for the leap days and earth irregular rotation was noticed long before the quartz clock. Even long before Jesus

  5. Chef Polo says:

    This is a lie

  6. TheWall9000 says:

    Wow man you're really downplaying cory in the house the best anime of all time

  7. Buffalo Dustin says:

    👎Your logic is heavily flawed, almost arrogant. To think that we as humans can even think to posit we can apply such explanations to the grandiose scaffolding that is the universe and how it unfolds. What we label as time & space or spacetime (kudos Einstein) initially began with what we call or infer to be the Big Bang, or Genesis (for the religious). We come along almost 14 billion years later whistling dixie, like some omniscient Don Quixote … and think WE invented TIME as a thought, construct or perception of our mind on how we percieve reality unfolding? It's super arrogant. I don't think it works like that, we don't INVENT the laws of nature, just observe, understand and report. My opinion at least, your welcome.

  8. TheGamingTiger says:

    History of time

  9. FlipperBooch219 says:

    4:15 so that’s where that name came from

  10. Mohit Dhagat says:

    @4.43 is that picture from Warwick university F211?

  11. mr albrecht says:

    am i the only one getting weird visual artifacting from the beginning to around 35 seconds?

  12. Matthew Chee says:

    Was time a discovery or an invention… eye yam confused

  13. EmeraldView says:

    Yay time!

  14. JJS says:

    Time itself is not a human construct. The measurement of the observation of time might be, depending on who is observing or how this observation is defined. However time is not a human invention.

  15. Eliott Meyers says:

    Sub to pew die pie

  16. Marco Martinez says:

    I wish you had mentioned pocket watches/spring powered clocks. They made clocks portable and more importantly, they worked on ships where pendulum clocks wouldn't as the rocking motion of the ships would disrupt the pendulum movement.

  17. Józef Piłsudski says:

    0:25 See? Medieval Europe wasn't as shitty as we thought. They even got cameras back then!

  18. Catalyst V7 says:

    People who took 25 micrograms of cheap acid be like “TIME IS AN ILLUSION, STAY WOKE”

  19. V9UCQ809 2VGQOP2G says:

    …rendering ???

  20. Egor Timatkov says:

    5:04 Atomic clocks don't use radioactive decay or radioactive elements: Radioactive decay is inherently random and would make for an inconsistent clock. Atomic clocks look at the ELECTRONS of specific elements (like the Caesium which is shown at 5:09) and how these electrons change states. Nothing to do with decay.

  21. BioChemoPhysio Science says:

    Isn’t Pierre the husband of Marie Curie?

  22. MIZU says:

    So, a GPS satellite is really just a clock floating around in space

  23. Astigmatisme says:

    The time was such a great humanity invention, it'd existed before humans did

  24. sergio lopez says:

    haha.."clocks were horrible"…love your videos =)

  25. rarakat says:

    Isn't religion human greatest invention too?

  26. Fridericus Rex says:

    4:03 oh bitch please, that’s nothing compared to the day switched from driving from the left to the right and massive accidents happened

  27. Marcin R says:

    The GPS device is not asking what time it is….it only receives information from satellites ….imagine every GPS device is sending queries to satellites, and another problem could be hacking the satellites 🙂

  28. Masaru Mori says:

    Humans didn't invent time. Time existed way before. We just found out about it.

  29. Sneaky Master says:

    Eh ehm, we did not invent time we discovered the phenomenon and found a way to measure it

  30. 哥倫布 Little Columbus says:

    I say that shifting work from results to hours-worked was a travesty. Imagine how much more productive we all would be if we were all paid on results

  31. Hector Amador says:

    Great videos!!!

  32. A.N.D says:

    I hate time.
    Change my mind.

  33. igor says:

    So how did they measure that the pendulum took an exact second to swing?

  34. Knocked Out says:

    who else didn't understand a word? lol

  35. Guy Knaan says:

    This comment will troll you.

    Read more

  36. Mantas Noreika says:

    I need some time to understand this…

  37. Dave Ballance says:

    The title should be "The History of Tracking Time" The video is not at all about the title.

  38. Arttu Kettunen says:

    Sees the video title
    Me: A C T U A L L Y…

  39. SDsc0rch says:

    what's with the weird visual effects??

  40. Nazik Adam says:

    We did not invent time. If we did we could have had all of it.

  41. AngelCM says:

    Time is very important to see what time is it at the place and what time is it in the world.

    For me, I use both clocks to see the Local Time for the sunlight reflection, and World Time (I.e. UTC = Coordinate Universal Time).

  42. Danny Chu says:

    Wow! So thats how GPS works?!

  43. NAWW says:

    Am I a joke to you

  44. Devin Crum says:

    This is just fascinating. Thank you for sharing this knowledge with me!

  45. Stirling Newberry says:

    You should mention Harrison.

  46. Lukeland says:

    Time Sucks, Because It Makes You Age -_-

  47. William Flores says:

    Time isn't an invention.Measurements of time are inventions by humans not time itself

  48. Memes n Shet says:

    2:06 you clock is off

  49. yuvraj patil says:

    Western give so much to humanity

  50. iiSpif Games says:

    Galileo Figarro!

  51. Der echte Duitslandball says:

    450 physicians are crying

  52. Emery Frink says:

    is it just me or does this video have a weird glitchy effect for the first 30 seconds

  53. robot 1435 says:

    So are we literally going to ignore how screwed up the rest of Eurasia and Africa is at 1:00?

  54. only photoshop says:

    And the greatest challenge when you have 3 hours left for the due date of a 2000 words essay

  55. Sabastian Anugraha says:

    Is this video glitched?

  56. Gavin Jackson says:

    Dio:Hold my stand

  57. random memer says:

    Wait, was this Sam?

  58. buntspecht says:

    Nope. Most Microprocessors only have an RC-Oscillator, no Quarz. At Boot up, they will be driven by them. If there is an external Quarz Oscillator, then those Microprocessors swap Clocks to the Quarz… At least they usually do. You can programm the Processor to use one of them, but also to swap them. Timing itself is important, but it normally is completely unimportant how accurate the Clock is… If the Clock is faster than specified you got glitches, if it is slower normally no one cares for as long as they are in certain specified boundaries. E.G. if you communicate with another Device asynchronously, it needs to be in certain bounds. Say, you want to transmit 115K Baud, but one of them only sends with 90K. Possibly there is a Glitch at some point in time. If you do synchronously this does not matter. Also if you communicate with other Devices synchronously or other devices with a different Clock, you normally have things like so Called Clock Domain Crossings. Basically there you synchronize the Data sent between them. For the most part, accuracy concerning the Clock is absolutely unimportant in that case.

    HSI vs HSE

    Note that this is basically what your phone does(pretty common on ARM)


  59. Anything everything says:

    You didn't say anything about invention of time, but you only spoke about evolution of clocks, clocks are devices used to show and measure time and time is subjective to Earth and the sun an some could argue time itself is nonexistent
    So change the topic to why clocks are humanity's greatest invention

  60. Sectapina The American says:

    Canada doesn't exist

  61. saikat saha says:

    WP : why time is one of….
    Einstein: Hold my beer

  62. Nico De Groote says:

    Time was not invented, we just started to measure it in more detail.

  63. Y. Shaked says:

    Authentic 16th century footage.

    Just like those old pictures of the comet that killed all the dinosaurs.

  64. DeeZanic says:

    Isn't it better to get payed by how much you produce instead of by how much time you spent at work??? How is it better to get payed by the hour instead of by the effort? That is bshit.

  65. William Krause says:

    Wendover videos have been consistently excellent and accurate. This one falls short; confuses various different issues, particularly re: marine navigation.

  66. Twig says:

    Humanity didnt invent time. We gave it a unit and invented a way to measure it.

  67. Michael Mccarthy says:

    I don't have time for this….

  68. Michael Mccarthy says:

    Time once lost is never to be recovered.

  69. Michael Mccarthy says:

    Time stands still for no one….

  70. Naglis sul says:

    Kinda mind blowing that if you say to a friend to mest up At 6 pm he’ll always say 5 minutes then gotta go eat and then nvm I am to sleepy maybe next time

  71. JOKER JOKER says:

    Who invented the time and his Sumerian division and everyone knows this thing

  72. Bo Duholm says:

    GPS system actually needs 4 satelites to accurately predict a location. If it only needed 3, the GPS receiver has to be fitted with a atomic clock as well. The fourth satelite is used for timing, so the receiver does not need an atomic clock.

  73. Calvin Smith says:

    why have I never seen this Wendover Productions video until now?

    thank you YouTube recommendations

  74. Alvaro Rodriguez says:

    am amazed how this wendover production didn't include anything with planes and airports lol…g great video!

  75. Robots913 says:

    I feel like I'd rather work for 'things' than time, write me 2.5 reports and you can go home. Hours are increasing these days for absolutely no reason. Guess the shift to services makes this difficult smh

  76. John Doe says:

    Time isn’t an invention. No one invented time we just produce devices to measure time.

  77. Kangaroo Fam says:

    Yeah, it’s one of the greatest invention so we can catch the bus

  78. Charlie Larouche says:

    If theres a difference of one day per year between sideral and solar years, why are we adding one day every four years?

  79. F C says:

    The invention of long distance train travel revolutionized time. Very few people travelled, or travelled far in the past. People went by daylight. Almost nobody ever rushed. There was a sequence of order of things. Without radio and TV there were also fewer distractions

  80. Kamil118 says:

    I have to downvote this for writing speed of light in miles per hour

  81. Michael Gray says:

    They didn't invent time they named it

  82. Chris Ruiz says:

    Nice video , thank you.

  83. Danielle Spargo says:

    Holy fuck that was so cool

  84. Calisto Hüttich says:

    Pendulum clocks could not be used on ships

  85. Cscuile says:

    Time is Humanity's greatest Discovery, not Invention

  86. Bob dabiuld says:

    Time was created by watch companies like Rolex to sell more clock

  87. noumaan says:

    Your upward inflection was quite annoying glad you stopped doing it

  88. Carly Vangstad Boyd says:

    four time zones were originally mapped out but is it important to add that turned into six time zones – hawaii, alaska, pacific, mountain, central, and eastern

  89. Tmg Clips says:

    It was just created by clock companies to sell more clocks

  90. 꼬마타이탄 says:


  91. Galland 34 says:

    NO YOU HAVE GOT IT UTTERLY WRONG. The marine problem for shipping was critical ( as you said ) and in the 18 th century the ROYAL NAVY laid it open for a competition to try and sort this problem out for latitude. This completion was eventually won by Harrison the clock maker, and was the source of all marine timepieces for the Royal Navy.and the world for accurate navigation. Of course the British government tried to keep it secret, and succeeded for a number of years , but like all secrets they eventually get known. Incidentally Harrison's work for

  92. Settiis says:

    I would rather live without time, the human brain is not programmed to work with clock.

  93. Doggo gamer says:

    U just summed up my history lesson

  94. MrQuidestveritas says:

    No we didn’t invent time at all we just invented ways to measure it.

  95. QBuild Pro says:

    2:05 unless it’s my friend

  96. Vic Vinegar says:

    You have to purge your narration style of that upward inflection. It's very irritating. I felt like I was being lectured about time by a teenage girl.

  97. George Malyk says:

    The pendulum clock was, and is, useless at sea. The rocking of the ship would disrupt the swing. This part of the video is completely incorrect!

  98. Timothy O'Neill says:

    Time was not an invention it was a Discovery

  99. nickyg299 says:

    0:04 Darlington ftw 🙌

  100. ivanbarbosa81 says:


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