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When the Alarm Clock Was a Person

There once was a time people were awakened, not by a cell phone or even an alarm clock, but by a “knocker-upper.” For many workers in early 20th century Britain, the daily alarm clock was a service worker. Known as the “knocker-upper” these predawn risers would pass by working-class buildings, rapping on the windows of those who need to get up.

Rural laborers, used to keeping time with the seasons, had relocated to manufacturing cities. They not only had to adjust to dangerous, fast-paced industrial work, but to new schedules. There were alarm clocks at the time, but they were expensive and unreliable.

Some workers might only find out they’d been called in for a shift from the knocker-upper that morning. Conditions could be cutthroat. Author Paul Middleton writes, “Life for the employed was forever balanced on a knife edge. Being late for work could mean instant dismissal and a speedy spiral for those workers and their families into poverty, homelessness and destitution.”

The job went obsolete around a hundred years after it was invented, as alarm clocks became more affordable and reliable and working conditions improved.

Possible Preaching Angles:

1) Employee; Work & Career – We should value the members of our church who work hard to earn a living. It is easy to demand too much of them as volunteers if we do not understand their labor. 2) End Times; Second Coming – As we near the end of the age, there is even a greater need for people to be awakened before it is too late (Rom. 13:11; Eph. 5:14)


Josh Jones, “When the Alarm Clock Was a Person,” Flashbak.com (1-12-20); Paul Middleton, “Mary Smith – The Knocker Upper,” Anomalien.com (5-2-19)

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