Who Invented the Stopwatch?


Measuring the passage of time with manmade devices represents one of the earliest known accomplishments of modern human civilization. With several thousand years of tradition of time measuring with more and more advanced devices, inventors and engineers of 18th and 19th century finally got the chance to create new type of clock, one that does not measure passage of standardized time over day and night. This type of clock was specifically designed to measure only the elapsed time from the moment when the clock mechanism was activated. This device is stopwatch.

The creation of first stopwatch is surrounded with a little controversy, because historical records show that there were several inventors who contributed to the creation of this device. The first mentioning of the device that can measure standard time but also has ability to use stopwatch feature came from 1776. Devised by the Frenchmen Jean-Moyes Pouzai, his plans under the name “Chronograph” showed addition of stopwatch features on the traditional mechanic plans of ordinary clock. His method of displaying results was however, vastly different than with modern stopwatches. Measuring of time was recorded by writing the amount of pun movement on a piece of paper.

Another early inventor of stopwatch was Englishman George Graham who created device who can start and stop very precisely (as fast as one sixteenth of a second). He however never patented his device and is today largely forgotten.

The first major public showcase of Chronograph happened almost 50 years later, after King Louis XVIII wanted to know how fast his horses are running around the racetrack. After considerable work, inventor Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec finished his work and used his Chronograph during the famous Champ de Mars horse race event, enabling officials, present public and royal guest to see run times for each horse in the race. This successful showcasing of stopwatch solidified Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec as the “father of the chronograph”, and ever since then many pocket, table, pendant and wrist watches gained the ability of stopwatch, in addition of their traditional daily time keeping ability.

White Stopwatch

Modern stopwatches that are specifically made with only that use in mind are created in the style of the Victorian pocket watches, with two buttons on the top. By pressing central button on the top will activate time measuring mechanism, while pressing it will stop it. Button number two also has dual purpose. Pressing it while timer is running will enable recording of lap times (stop watch will immediately reset and continue tracking time without any delays, while measuring hand will linger for a few seconds on the recorded lap time) but pressing it while measuring is stopped will reset stopwatch to neutral position.

In early 1970s digital stopwatches started being used in official sporting events, ushering the new era of extremely precise time measuring devices. Today stopwatch function can be found in many modern digital and mechanical clocks – wrist watches, mobile phones, computers, portable digital devices, cars, and others.