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Warren Marrison developed the first quartz clock in 1927.

Marrison In the early 20th century, as telephone wires carried more messages and radio broadcasting matured, maintaining stable electrical frequencies and devising means to monitor the frequencies became critical technical problems. In 1927, Canadian-born Warren Marrison, a telecommunications engineer, was searching for reliable frequency standards at Bell Telephone Laboratories. Building on earlier work in piezoelectricity by W.G. Cady and G.W. Pierce, he developed a very large, highly accurate clock based on the regular vibrations of a quartz crystal in an electrical circuit.

Marrison's clock proved to be more accurate than previous time standards.

Clock Marrison and others demonstrated that the quartz oscillator used in this way was more accurate than the best existing mechanical clocks used in astronomical observatories as time standards. During the 1940s, time standard laboratories throughout the world switched from mechanical clocks to quartz. The fundamental standard of time remained the rotation of the earth relative to the stars, but quartz clocks confirmed that the earth was an unreliable timekeeper.

Born in Inverary, Ontario, Marrison (1896-1980) had earned a B.S. from Queens University, Kingston, in 1920. He was the school's first graduate in a new engineering physics program, and he had interrupted his formal education for two years to work on radio communications in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. After earning a master's degree from Harvard in 1921, he went to work for Western Electric in New York City and, four years later, Bell Laboratories, also in New York. He became a U.S. citizen in 1941. During his career, he earned 65 patents.

Electronic watches today use miniature oscillators similar to the large one used in Marrison's clock, based on the regular vibrations of quartz crystals.

For a complete transcript of Marrison's paper on the history of the quartz clock, go to

Before 1960 ~ After 1960

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