The Invention of the Employee Time Clock

May 16, 2023
Ian Zapolsky

Head of Partner Engineering

Ian Zapolsky

The employee time clock was invented by Willard Le Grand Bundy in Auburn, New York in 1888. Bundy was a jeweler who was also an avid inventor—he obtained patents throughout his life on a number of inventions, from mechanical calculation machines, to electronic cash registers, to the employee time clock. The value of the clock was immediately obvious to employers, who had the unenviable task of monitoring the arrival and departure times of dozens or hundreds of employees every day to determine how much they should be paid at the end of each pay period. Especially for large factories, a common type of employer in late 19th century New York, this was a non-trivial job.

The device's major innovation over a standard clock was that it allowed for a piece of paper, or a card, to be fed into a slot, and when it hit a contact at the back of the slot, the current date and time information would be stamped onto the card. In fact, it is from this early device that the term "timestamp" originated, which is commonly used in computer science to denote a digital representation of the current time. Employees each had a card assigned to them, and upon arriving and departing from work would feed their card into the machine and receive timestamps recording their start and end times. At the end of each pay period, employers could simply sum up the hours between the timestamps on every employee's card, centralizing and automating the storage and collection of this data.

Early time clock model
Schematic from one of Willard Le Grand Bundy's patents

In 1889, one year after Willard's initial invention of the time clock, he and his brother Harlow Elisha Bundy, by all accounts the savvier businessman of the two, founded the Bundy Manufacturing Recording Company and began selling time clocks to employers across the United States. The product was an overnight success, and by the end of the 1890s the small upstart had inked contracts with huge employers of the day, including the United States Postal Service.

In the meantime, competition had woken up to the existence of this new market, and time clock companies sprung up throughout the 1890s. In 1900, the International Time Recording Company (ITR) was formed as a result of a merger of several of these companies, including Bundy Manufacturing Recording Company. ITR went on to produce time clocks as well as adding machines for ten more years, before in 1911 being folded yet again through acquisition into another holding company, or trust (which were common in the day): Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR).

At the time of its creation, CTR was already a large company with over 1,300 employees, and it manufactured a wide variety of equipment including employee time-keeping systems, weighing scales, automatic meat slicers, and punchcard equipment. In 1924, CTR was renamed a final time to International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). IBM went on to produce time clocks for over 30 years before in 1958 it ultimately decided to focus its business on tabulation machines and computers, and sold its Time Equipment Division, including any ancestral remnant of Bundy Manufacturing Recording Company, to Simplex Time Recorder Company.


More from the Check blog

September 13, 2023

Back to School: Multi-state Taxation for Temporary Residents

Navigating taxes when you are living and working outside of your resident state can be confusing. As we enter back to school season, we dive into how college students attending school out of state should think about taxes.

Read more >

August 17, 2023

Launching payroll with Check: A closer look

Launching payroll is no small feat. In this blog, Sid walks through the steps to get payroll up and running and how Check supports our partners in that process. We are with our partners every step of the way: implementing, selling, and growing their product.

Read more >