Before the invention of the clock, people relied on various methods to measure time. One of the most common tools used in the past was the alarm candle, a special type of candle designed to burn for a set amount of time before extinguishing itself, thus signalling the passage of time.
The use of alarm candles dates back to ancient times and was widespread throughout many cultures until the 19th century when clocks became widely available. Alarm candles were used for various purposes, including lighting, timekeeping, and as a warning signal. In ancient Greek temples, for example, alarm candles were lit to indicate the start of religious ceremonies or to remind people of daily prayer times. In medieval Europe, alarm candles were often used as a timekeeping tool by the monks in the monasteries to regulate their daily prayers and activities.
The design of alarm candles was simple yet ingenious. A small piece of metal or wire was embedded in the wax at a certain distance from the candle’s base. As the candle burned, the metal would heat up and eventually melt, causing the wire to fall and extinguish the flame. The length of time the candle would burn depended on the distance between the wire and the base, which could vary from one candle to another. Alarm candles also had practical use in homes and businesses. For example, merchants used to light alarm candles to signal their staff when it was time to start work or when the store was closing. Similarly, homeowners used alarm candles to wake up early in the morning or to remind them of important appointments.
In the 18th century, the use of alarm clocks became more popular, primarily due to advancements in technology and the increase in trade and commerce. These clocks were more reliable and easier to use compared to alarm candles, which sometimes failed to work properly. As a result, alarm candles became less popular in the 19th century and eventually phased out of use as clocks became more readily available. In conclusion, alarm candles were a useful and ingenious tool for timekeeping in ancient and medieval times. They were used for various purposes, including religious and daily activities, as well as a warning signal.
While alarm candles eventually became outdated with the invention of more accurate and reliable timekeeping devices, they remain an important part of human history and a testament to human ingenuity.