Article ID: CBB809192890

Pursuing Frequency Standards and Control: The Invention of Quartz Clock Technologies (2016)


The quartz clock, the first to replace the pendulum as the time standard and later a ubiquitous and highly influential technology, originated in research on means for determining frequency for the needs of telecommunication and the interests of its users. This article shows that a few groups in the US, Britain, Italy and the Netherlands developed technologies that enabled the construction of the new clock in 1927–28. To coordinate complex and large communication networks, the monopolistic American Telephone and Telegraph Company, and national laboratories needed to determine and maintain a common ‘standard’ frequency measurement unit. Exploiting novel piezoelectric quartz methods and valve electronics techniques, researchers in these organizations constructed a new crystal-based frequency standard. To ensure its accuracy they compared it to an accepted absolute standard - an astronomical clock, constructing thereby the first quartz clock. Other groups, however, had different, though connected, technological aims, which originated from the diverse interests of the industrial, governmental and academic institutes to which they belonged, and for which they needed to measure, control and manipulate with frequencies of electric oscillations. The present article suggests a comparative examination of the research and development paths of these groups on their incentives, the technological and scientific resources they utilized, and the kind of research carried out in the various institutional settings.

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Authors & Contributors
McCrossen, Alexis
Jensen, Joan M.
Ambrose, Linda M.
Frumer, Yulia
Stephens, Carlene E.
Steele, John M.
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Mémoires de la Classe des sciences. Académie Royale de Belgique
Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage
History of Psychology
Historia Scientiarum: International Journal of the History of Science Society of Japan
British Journal for the History of Science
University of Chicago Press
University of Iowa Press
Stanford University Press
MIT Press
Hambledon and London
Clocks and Watches
Time measuring instruments
Time measurement
Time perception
Technology and culture
Harrison, John
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
Edo period (Japan, 1603-1868)
18th century
United States
Great Britain
Middle and Near East

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