Bundy Clock from the Australian Gas Light Company

In November 1888 Willard le Grande Bundy, a jeweller in Auburn, New York patented a timepiece to track the hours worked by employees and to calculate pay. The device was powered by mechanical and later electrical means. A year later his brother Harlow founded the Bundy Manufacturing Company and began to mass-produce what became known as the Bundy clock. The company underwent a number of mergers before becoming part of the giant International Business Machine (IBM) Corporation.

Workers would “bundy-on” at the start of the day by feeding a card into the machine, which stamped a time and date on it.  At the end of the day workers would “bundy off” by repeating the process. Each worker had their own card so an exact record was made of how long they had worked.

Usually there was no paid overtime. Workers who were late, however, could be “docked” pay. The system was soon adopted by employers world wide, but was almost universally resented by workers who felt they were being squeezed by the boss or turned into automatons. Not surprisingly, workers soon tried to find ways to circumvent the system.

For a time the bundy clock seemed headed for redundancy with the erosion of the 9 to 5 work-culture. Now increasingly, employees are working as and when they can – out of hours, from home or as part of the gig economy. The modern version of the Bundy clock uses the ubiquitous mobile phone to record workers’ hours and locations.

It is interesting to note that convicts transported to Australia under the British penal system were required to work up to 10 hours a day, with Sunday as a day of rest. The total of 60 hours is less than many white-collar workers and small business owners work today.

Andrew West

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