Vintage alarm clocks

Vintage alarm clock
Vintage alarm clock. But when was this style popular?
Image by Nenad Stojkovic licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped).

Retro-style alarm clocks are very popular right now. I thought it might be fun to look at real vintage alarm clocks.

Alarm clocks or 'alarum clocks' were common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But some preferred a 'knocker up' to wake them. The 'knocker up' banged on their bedroom window, at an agreed wake-up time, with a long pole. The tradition continued in some industrial towns until the early 1970s.

Twin-bell or single bell

Westclox alarm clock with single bell, 1921
Westclox alarm clock with single bell, 1921 (USA)
Public domain image

When most people think of an alarm clock they think of the classic twin-bell design. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century this type of clock was rare. Most alarm clocks had a single bell.

There were twin-bell designs in the 1910s. However, this style was most popular when nostalgia for the 'good old days' was reignited in the late 1960s. Like the classic cafetière our idea of what folk used in the past dates from the 1960s.

1960s and 1970s 'classic' alarm clock

In the mid-sixties manufacturers revived the so-called 'classic' double-bell alarm. In 1964 Sears offered a German-made 'Petite' double-bell alarm clock finished in brass with blue, pink or clear rhinestone decoration for $5.97.

By 1971 Sears was selling a large number of different designs. Some were of the classic design. Children's alarm clocks featured 'Snoopy', 'Mickey Mouse' and a host of other characters.

In 1970, J C Penney offered 'Mod Style' clocks in purple, green or red with a flower-power inspired daisy design.

By 1975 Sears was selling double-bell alarms featuring your favourite NFL (football) team.

In the UK they were available in a Woolworth's, Timothy White's, Boots, Argos and many other stores.

Two popular clocks in this style sold in the UK in the 1970s to early 1980s were:

In the 1980s battery-powered quartz clocks became cheaper, so the popularity of the traditional double-bell alarm clock waned.

Concealed bell

Swiza alarm clock with concealed bell
Swiza alarm clock with concealed bell (Switzerland)

By the 1920s the fashionable alarm clock did not have a visible bell. It was concealed within the case.

This type of mechanical alarm clock sold in reasonable numbers until the 1970s.

Westclox Baby Ben alarm clock, 1970s
Westclox Baby Ben alarm clock, 1970s (Scotland)

In the UK the most common makers of clockwork (or wind-up) alarm clocks (double or concealed bell) were:

Source: Which? November 1972 page 327

Electric clock

Metamec electric clock (UK), 1950s
Metamec electric clock (UK), 1950s

The electric clock predates the transistorised battery clocks of the 1960s, or indeed the quartz clocks of the 1970s and 1980s.

The electric alarm clock first became popular in the 1930s. Smiths Selectric was one of the most well-known brands.

Alarm clocks from the 1950s followed contemporary fashion. Modern was in and clocks generally had a modern feel to them.

This bedside alarm clock from Metamec (left) features a light above the clock. The face has the appearance of an eye.

Metamec electric clock (UK), 1950s
Metamec electric clock (UK), 1970s

Just as space age looking is this Metamec electric clock from the early 1970s. It had a lighted dial so you could see what time it was without putting the light on.

Westclox Dialite 22090-22540 (USA), 1970s
Westclox Dialite 22090-22540 (USA). Unmistakably 1970s with simulated wood finish

Westclox introduced a snooze function in 1960 [1]. The Westclox Dialite has a single button snooze feature. This one is from the mid-1970s. I love the fake wood finish!

Other electric clocks from the early 1970s included:

Source: Which? November 1972 page 327

Digital alarm

Estyma digital alarm clock, 1976
Estyma 305C Electronic Alarm Clock, 1976 (Germany). Was the minimalist style too stark for the home?

As the technology of pocket calculators emerged, the next step was the digital alarm and the digital alarm clock/radio.

The Estyma 305C Electronic Alarm clock was made in Germany in 1976. It brought brushed chrome minimalism to clock design. You could also get it in a gilt finish.

Unlike quartz battery alarms, it needed 50Hz alternating current and came with a plug-in transformer.

You could buy one from Debenhams (UK department store) in 1976 for £19.95. In today's money that would have been over £100.

The style was a little too stark for most people's homes. Debenhams pointed out that it could also be used as a desk clock. It did not sell well and the price was reduced to £15.95 the following year. Most people would have preferred a clock radio.


The double-bell traditional alarm clock remains a firm favourite today. You can buy new or search out a vintage one on eBay or at an antique market. Happy clock hunting!


The History of Westclox Drowse (Snooze) Electric Alarm Clocks retrieved from

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Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

Mid Century ★ Facts & Figures ★ Collectibles

Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

★ Mid Century ★ Facts & Figures ★ Collectibles ★