Types of Time Recorders

There have been several different methods invented and employed to achieve the same objective, which was to accurately record the number of hours worked by each employee, save the employer money, and make money for the inventor.

To be successful the machines had to be fool-proof, easy for the workers and time clerks to operate, accurate and reliable.

Below are brief descriptions and examples of the various methods used. More detailed descriptions and drawings of each type as described and drawn by the inventors themselves can be found on the Patents page.


Time Check Machines:

These were the first type of time recorders used in the UK, notably patented and manufactured by William Llewellin (1881) and Frank Brook (1889), but most probably first invented by John Adams in 1855.

Time Check Machine DrawingsThe most basic form utilised a large vertically mounted segmented drum rotated by a heavy duty clock movement. Each section of the drum represented a period of time (say 10 minutes). Each worker would have his own numbered metal 'check' or token, stored in an adjacent cabinet or rack. On arrival at work, each worker would select his check and insert it into the machine in a slot or hole positioned above the drum. An internal chute would then send the check to the segment of drum representing the time period of arrival. Once all the workers had arrived (say by mid-morning) the time clerk would remove or access the drum, log the arrival time of each numbered check, and replace the checks into the cabinet for the same procedure to take place when the work day was over.

Several methods were invented to automatically and more accurately record the arrival and departure time of each worker, including using 2 checks each day for clocking in and clocking out, ink ribbons and time graphed paper under the drum which would be marked by the force of each dropped cylindrical check embossed with it's number, or with striking mechanisms to stamp or punch card or paper with the deposited check's identity number.


Dial or Radial Recorders:

Dial RecorderInvented by Alexander Dey in Glasgow in 1888, this type of machine used a large dial with equally spaced sequentially numbered holes. The end pointer on a centrally pivoted arm was inserted by each worker into their corresponding numbered hole which moved the position of a central paper drum to print the date and time of entry and exit of each number on a pre-printed paper roll inside the housing. The time stamping mechanism was driven by an 8 day movement, with another mechanism to set the morning/night and day of the week. The information from the printed paper roll would be used by the wages clerk to calculate each employee's pay at the end of the week.

The machines varied in size dependant on the number of employees it was required for, between 50 and 200 workers; the more numbers the larger the dial, the larger the printing drum, and the larger the machine.

This design was used for several decades, and modified versions were manufactured and sold by other time recorder companies.


Key Recorders:

Bundy Key RecorderInvented by Willard Le Grand Bundy in the USA in 1878, this type of machine recorded the arrival and departure times of workers on a roll of paper by the insertion and rotation of a key, each key individually numbered 00-99 for each employee. The clocking in mechanism, driven by a heavy duty 8 day movement and using an ink ribbon, accurately stamped an imprint of the key number along with the date and time in hours and minutes. A numbered key rack would be situated adjacent to each clock. A time clerk would be employed to remove the stamped section of the paper roll at the end of the day or week to record the attendance times of each worker, and calculate the payroll accordingly.

Many modifications and improvements were made over the several decades this successful machine was used, and the design principle was used and manufactured by many of the other major time recorder companies.


Card Recorders:

ITR RecorderDaniel M Cooper is credited for inventing the first card recorder, the Rochester, in the USA in 1894.

By far the most widely used and successful type of time recorder, the same basic design remained in use for nearly a century. The design did not limit the number of employee's that it could accommodate, with each worker having their own clocking-in card stamped on a weekly basis to record their arrival and departure times each day by date, hour and minute. The cards were stored in numbered racks adjacent to the machines. With no paper roll to extract and change, the wages clerks would calculate the pay for employees from the information printed on each card at the end of each week.

The major time recorder manufacturers all had their own versions of card recorders, with many variations and improvements over time, though less ornate as the 20th century progressed and as production costs became more significant.

All the time recorder mechanisms were driven by substantial 8 day movements, with some manufacturers such as Gledhill-Brook using very accurate fusee movements.


Clipper Recorders:

ITR Recorder'Clipper' time recorders worked on the same principle as card recorders, but each time the card was stamped with the time a notch was clipped out of the card so that it would be postioned one line up the next time the card was inserted.

The most notable examples are the National Time Recorder 'Clipit' model, and Gledhill-Brook 'Clipper' model, both introduced around 1920.

 The machines had removable trays under the clipping mechanism to catch the card clippings which would need to be emptied periodically.


Autograph or Signature Recorders:

Autograph RecorderThe earliest autograph recorder appears to be have been invented in Chigago USA in 1888, and manufactured by the Chigago Time Register Company.

They were generally desk top machines with many portable versions, designed more for office workers rather than factory floor workers (presumably under the assumption that not all manual labourers could write their name).

The basic principle is a clock movement that drives a mechanism which prints the date and time of entry and exit alongside a written signature. The signature is written on the paper through an aperture while a lever pressed by the worker to advance the paper roll for the next worker. Usually very awkward for left-handers! The wages clerk would remove the printed portion of the paper roll at the end of each week to calculate the wages due to each employee.

Leading manufacturers produced different versions of autograph recorders, varying in styles and size, from wall mounted to portable desktop types.


Time stamps:

Time StampThese were basic but effective small desktop machines that incorporated a clock movement with a mechanism to print the date and time on a card or paper when inserted by the employee and a lever pressed.

Many versions were patented at the end of the 19th century in the USA, with the most successful manufacturers being The Accurate Time Stamp Company (1890), which latterly became The Standard Time Company (acquired by Bundy in 1899), and The Follett Time Recorder Company (1907), which still exists today.

Blick marketed the Follet Time Stamp in the UK from 1917, and later marketed a version made by the National Time Recorder Company Ltd in the 1920's.


Job Timer or Job Cost Machines:

Job TimerThese machines were really just glorified time stamps which varied in size between different manufacturers, from portable desktops to full size wall mounted versions.

They were sold as machines that could accommodate any type and size of card, primarily for casual workers or workers on long, unusual or temporary shifts. Operation was simply by card insertion and lever press to stamp the date and time. More complex machines were designed and supplied with specific cards that would give a weekly worker attendance record, such as the Gledhill-Brook Universal recorder.


Button Press Recorder:

Photograph Time RecorderThis example was an early invention of Edward G Watkins, which resulted in him founding the Simplex Time Recorder Company in 1894.

The workers simply pressed their allocated number on the front of the machine on starting and leaving work, which punched a hole on the paper held on a large drum. The drum was rotated by an eight day clock movement, and the pre-printed paper marked by time and worker number.

It didn't become a popular method probably due to the limitation of the number of workers, the large paper roll required, and the necessity to accurately set the paper on the drum.

A full description and more illustrations by the inventor can be found on the patents page.


Photographic Recorder:

Photograph Time RecorderI came across this invention while trolling through hundreds of patents. I don't suppose it ever reached the production stage, but it has to be the most unique and innovative design for it's time (London 1898).

The concept was a combination of a clock, printing mechanism and camera, to date and time stamp a photograph of the employee's face when starting and leaving work. It would no doubt have been a nightmare to maintain with the camera technology at the time! If only webcams had been around...

A full description and more illustrations by the inventor can be found on the patents page.