Pursuing frequency standards and control: The invention of quartz clock technologies

Shaul Katzir*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-39
Number of pages39
JournalAnnals of Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2016


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