That was then, this is now

by on April 28, 2017 at 12:37 pm in History | Permalink

In Britain and Ireland, a large number of enterprising early birds made a living waking people for work.

A knocker-up would be paid a few pence a week to make the rounds and rouse workers, banging on their doors with a short stick or rapping on upper windows with a long pole. The knocker-up would not move on until he received confirmation that his drowsy client was up and moving.

The profession died out in the 1920s as alarm clocks became cheaper and more reliable, but a few specialized knockers-up — such as Doris Weigand, employed by a railway depot to summon workers for short-notice shifts — survived for a few decades more.

Here is the full story, via Michael Clemens.  Remember how the Brits used to say “can you knock me up in the morning?”  Here is the Guardian on the race to build the world’s first sex robot.

1 Dave April 28, 2017 at 12:43 pm

In squash (particularly in the UK) the initial warmup is called the “knock up.” I wonder if it’s borrowed from here.

2 Ray Lopez April 28, 2017 at 1:24 pm

“Second International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots, a convention co-founded by David Levy, and named after his groundbreaking book”

Bonus trivia: David Levy happens to also be a chess computer pioneer. He got his PhD at the late age of 62. (Wikipedia): David Neil Laurence Levy (born 14 March 1945 in London, England) is a British International Master of chess, a businessman noted for his involvement with computer chess and artificial intelligence, and the founder of the Computer Olympiads and the Mind Sports Olympiads. He has written more than 40 books on chess and computers…. Levy also wrote Love and Sex with Robots, published in the United States in 2007 by HarperCollins, and forthcoming from Duckworth in the UK. It is the commercial edition of his PhD thesis, which he defended successfully on 11 October 2007, at Maastricht University, Netherlands. On 17 January 2008, he appeared on the late night television show The Colbert Report to promote his book. In September 2009, Levy predicted that sex robots would hit the market within a couple of years.[8] He defended his controversial views on the potential future wide use of sex robots by the public, and also by sex offenders, in an interview with the Guardian newspaper in December 2015.[9] Levy has also been working on a range of sexually erotic chatbots, which have been created by a team based in a lab in Malaysia.[10] However his research into human-robot sexual relations has not been viewed favourably by the Malaysian authorities who ruled the 2015 Congress on Love and Sex with Robots, which was due to be co-chaired by Levy, as illegal[11] following the organisers attempt to imply the Malaysian governments’ endorsement by using the Tourism Malaysia logo on their website.[12]

3 FredR April 28, 2017 at 1:40 pm

From Disraeli’s “Sybil”:

A man muffled up in a thick coat, and bearing in his hand what would seem at the first glance to be a shepherd’s crook, only its handle is much longer, appears upon the pavement. He touches a number of windows with great quickness as he moves rapidly along. A rattling noise sounds upon each pane. The use of the long handle of his instrument becomes apparent as he proceeds, enabling him as it does to reach the upper windows of the dwellings whose inmates he has to rouse. Those inmates are the factory girls, who subscribe in districts to engage these heralds of the dawn; and by a strict observance of whose citation they can alone escape the dreaded fine that awaits those who have not arrived at the door of the factory before the bell ceases to sound.

4 Ed April 28, 2017 at 1:42 pm

This is a good example of a job lost to automation (the alarm clock).

And since alarm clocks fail, having a professional minder to make sure you are awake at the right time is a better solution. But its expensive. Companies want their workers to get in on time for their shift, but not so much that they won’t put the expense and effort entirely on the workers.

5 Ray Lopez April 28, 2017 at 2:12 pm

And in modern times, there’s *still* no useful software alarm clock. Sure, there’s freeware or professional calendars like Outlook that will remind you of a due date, but find me a free program that has: (1) countdown timer, (2) calendar timer (to wake you any hour or day by either flashing the screen with a popup or sounding a short alarm on your PC speaker/sound system), (3) automatic sleep and automatic repeat feature after a set time sounding the alarm, and, though it took me a while (you have to learn how to program multiple threads), (4) multiple instances of such software alarm clocks, running independently, so you can have more than one such alarm clock running in background.

I got so frustrated at the lack of such software I went ahead and built such a timer, using C#, and now I use it myself on my systems. I use it all the time when web surfing since it’s said you stay sharper if you limit your time on the web to 30 minutes, then take a short timeout. Oops, there goes the alarm, time for me to take a break from posting.

6 RM April 28, 2017 at 4:58 pm

I thought that the typical smartphone alarm clock does all that (though probably with a variation on # 3).

7 Ray Lopez April 28, 2017 at 6:16 pm

Not a smartphone alarm clock, but a software alarm clock for your PC. Us old folks still surf the net on their PC. Some of you reading this that still have to work (haha) do also.

8 Thomas April 28, 2017 at 10:08 pm

Karen’s Alarm Clock works fine for me.

9 clamence April 29, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Maybe your hot gf who is half your age can be your alarm? (If not, see sex robot link, I think those have all of your features)

10 Jan April 28, 2017 at 2:49 pm

There are still plenty of “knocker-ups” today, but the job description has changed significantly.

11 John Mansfield April 28, 2017 at 3:25 pm

One of the surprises from a week at sea aboard a navy ship was the young men going around waking individuals to go on watch. I asked one of the crew about this way of doing things, and he explained two reasons for it. First, this method was more restful for those not going on watch than to have a bunch of alarm clocks going off. Second, the ones doing the waking were sent by the watches on duty, who couldn’t leave until they were replaced and therefore took a personal interest in their replacements waking up.

12 So Much For Subtlety April 28, 2017 at 7:12 pm

This makes sense to me. The people who are awake (and incidentally are surrounded by time keeping devices that the entire ship bases its work on so there is no chance of a dispute about what the time actually is) have a vested interested in waking other people up.

But who wakes the waker-upper up? How can he be sure that he is on time? Is he paying off his watch like someone who buys a car to become an Uber driver?

13 Thomas April 28, 2017 at 10:10 pm

Sure, in the Navy, the Officer of the Deck will often send the Messenger of the Watch to perform wakeups. Just read the watch bill and ask for a 1:30am wake up for your 2am watch that turns over at 1:45am. You are still responsible of course.

14 Anonymous April 28, 2017 at 3:26 pm

The world marches on. I just learned that we are having the first lesbian marriage in the family. My 82 year old mother’s main concern is that her nephew’s daughter’s girlfriend is a bit overweight.

15 Aloke April 28, 2017 at 3:28 pm
16 Feyi April 28, 2017 at 3:49 pm

But Pepys wrote in his diary about his fancy new watch that had an alarm. Did it take 300 years for the technology to diffuse?
Quite interesting

17 msgkings April 28, 2017 at 4:22 pm

Pepys the Frog?

18 Thomas April 28, 2017 at 10:11 pm

Found the nazi – SPLC, HRC, DWS, DNC

19 Art Deco April 28, 2017 at 4:55 pm

I bought a sex robot and even that cucked me!!!

20 msgkings April 28, 2017 at 5:09 pm

The robot Alex Tabarrok bought for me ran out of my apartment in disgust.

21 RM April 28, 2017 at 8:11 pm
22 April 28, 2017 at 9:33 pm
23 Anon April 28, 2017 at 10:11 pm

Nice link, thanks,

24 NSFW April 28, 2017 at 9:48 pm


A ‘knock me up’ robot that do both the stated functions.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: