Hamilton House

Boys High School

Interrogating and Shaping the World Through Science

Ainissa Ramirez

Hamilton House has an explicit mission to develop learners with specific strengths in the STEM subjects. This will give our young men an advantage in their abilities to understand the world they live in and take deliberate steps to improve it. An important step in this process is to bring the real world into the classroom. This is often done through stories. In her book The Alchemy of Us, scientist and writer Ainissa Ramirez tells the stories of how eight inventions shaped our experience as humans.

In this excerpt Ramirez describes, how the woman who sold time and our pursuit of precision in timepieces changed how we sleep.

“Working on a recent project, I learned about the importance of time and how it has shaped culture. Many people of course will know that because of the clock, we became more obsessed with time—we had a desire to be punctual. One of the stories that I learned about and was attracted to was the story of Ruth Belville, from the 19th century, who is known as the Greenwich Time Lady.

She had an unusual job. She was in the business of selling time. She would wake up early in her home in Maidenhead, which is thirty miles outside of London, make her way over to London, and then to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which is where the precise time was. The whole time, she was carrying with her a pocket watch, which she had nicknamed Arnold. She would give her watch, Arnold, to the attendant, and the attendant would look at its time and compare it to their master clock. Then they would give her a certificate noting the difference between its time and her watch’s time. Then she’d make her way down the hill and over to London, to different businesses that needed to know the time—businesses like banks, factories, newspapers, and pubs (which needed to know the time because they couldn’t sell alcohol after set hours)….”

Read the full article here.