Conversation Topics: Snooze Button

Life is full of simple pleasures. For many of us, there is no sweeter time than the few more minutes of sleep obtained by the half-awake slap of the snooze button -- that switch on the alarm clock that defers the alarm for a few minutes. These days it's hard to find a clock radio without a snooze button, but the snooze button, like the clock radio that it commonly appears on, has evolved from the day it first appeared 45 years ago.

To understand the snooze button, one must first understand the alarm clock, the predecessor to the clock radio. Clocks can be classified by their type of displays and by their timing mechanisms.

Clock displays can be either analog or digital. Analog clock displays have a round face with numbers from 1 to 12 marked sequentially around their face and an hour hand and a minute hand, which rotate around the face and point to the numbers corresponding to the time. Digital clocks displays, which are easier to understand because they do not require one to know 'how to read time,' indicate the time by displaying the number of hours, minutes, and sometimes seconds.

There are three types of timing mechanisms: mechanical, electric, and electronic. Mechanical clocks use the movement of pendulums, springs, and/or wheels and governors to control the rotation of gears so that they move at a consistent speed that can be displayed on the face of the clock. Electric clocks also use gears, but they use the frequency of the alternating current it gets from the wall socket to regulate the speed of an electric motor that drives the clock hands. Electronic clocks do not have mechanical parts; instead, they measure time by counting electronic pulses either in the power source or from its own pulse generating circuit.

The clock radio is, as the name suggests, merely the marriage of a radio to a clock with the clock being able to control when the radio turns on and off. The first electric clock (analog and make by The Warren Telechron company) appeared in 1919. The first clock radio (analog, mechanical) was produced in 1928 by Bulova, a US company founded by a Czech immigrant.

The first clock with a button for delaying the alarm was an analog electric clock and appeared in 1956 under the brand name of GE-Telechron. The feature was known as the "Snooz-Alarm." By pressing the snooze button on top of the clock, the alarm was shut off for between nine and ten minutes. Three years later, Westclox introduced their "drowse" alarm, which was activated by a switch that, depending on which way you pressed it, gave a choice of 5 or 10 minute "drowse" (snooze).

Also in 1959, International Register Company (later to be known as Intermatic) filed US Patent 3,100,961 for "Clock Operated Electric Switch and Alarm Buzzer Control Device" that described an improved mechanism that allowed

...shutting off the alarm buzzer manually in such manner that it will automatically sound again after a short lapse of time, such as 5 or 6 minutes. This buzzer delay-repeat mechanism may be manually tripped several times after each sound of the buzzer so as to obtain several successive 5 minute periods for snoozing or going back to sleep; or, alternatively, two or more of the delay intervals may be totalized, if desired, by manually actuating the control lever several times at once, thereby obtaining a longer delay interval before the alarm buzzer sounds again. To avoid the complexity of a technically descriptive title for this latter mechanism, I have called it the "40-Winker" mechanism.
Unfortunately, the "40-Winker" approach was not licensed but other companies, so there is no way on most clocks and clock radios to control how long the snooze period is.

Over the next 10 years, the idea of a snooze button migrated from alarm clocks to clock radios. In 1969, "Radio Clock Mechanism having Drowse Feature," US Patent #3,686,878 was filed. (Incidentally, US patents can be read on-line by going to http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/srchnum.htm and entering the patent number.)

In the 1970's, digital displays for electric clocks followed, but the timing mechanism was still mechanical. US Patent #3,559,072 issued to Elden R. Davisson on January 26, 1971, for "Electronic Shut-off Timers" describes an electronic 'sleep switch' for controlling the playing of a clock radio without relying on the clock radio's clock mechanism. A sleep switch, you may know, works the opposite of a snooze button: it allows you to turn on the radio and then control when it will shut off so that you go to sleep listening to the radio and not worry about it waking you up later in the night..

Fully electronic clocks began replacing mechanical and electric clocks in the late 1970's. US Patent # 3,888,075 issued on June 10, 1975, describes an "Electronic Clock" and is interesting because, by this date, snooze buttons were considered a standard feature and is included in a routine fashion within this patent.

In closing, like the "40-Winker," there is another patent that didn't get much use but that many of us probably wish would have: US Patent #2,999,928 issued to A.W. Haydon, et al, on September 12, 1961, for a "Portable Clock-Radio Alarm System." To quote the patent:
The follow-up alarm is a further safeguard should an unmodulated carrier wave be received, which could conceivably occur in early morning hours, when a transmitting station is merely "warming up." In this event, the sleeper would be awakened by the positive feedback signal actuated by the follow-up alarm system.
In other words, if you set the clock to 'wake to music' but for whatever reason there is no signal in the morning, the buzzer comes on instead.

Updated October 1, 2003 - go to our home or life advice page