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The Sound of America: Tick-tock, Tick-tock


If you've read the children's book Alice in Wonderland, you'll remember the frantic white rabbit with his pocket watch, mumbling, "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date. No time to say hello. Goodbye! I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!"

Even more than the rabbit -- perhaps more than any other people on earth -- Americans live and work under the tyranny of time. Everywhere you go, you'll hear us saying:

"Time waits for no man."

"Time marches on."

"Time is money."

"Time's a wastin'!"

"Time is of the essence."

"A stitch in time saves nine!"

"Time to go! . . . Save time. . . . Be on time! . . . How much time do we have? . . . Time out! . . . No time like the present!"

And on and on. As one of the most popular exhibits at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., made clear over four decades until the museum was closed for a lengthy renovation last September, America is consumed with the efficient use of time.

In 1800, fewer than 10 percent of Americans owned a clock or watch. But as these devices were introduced, the clock dial -- not sun time or the body's circadian rhythms -- came to dominate the way we think about time.

We synchronized it once railroads began crossing the country. They established broad time zones, which U.S. and world governments later expanded to include the entire globe.

We printed complex astronomical tables that helped us tell time before most towns had clocks; we built watches for the blind, studded with pins that correspond to each hour; we made stopwatches to time horseraces, and shot clocks -- calibrated to the tenth of a second -- for sports events. And we crafted scientific clocks so precise, they can subdivide time into billionths of a second.

Nevertheless, the most famous watch in American history bears the likeness of a simple cartoon character: Mickey Mouse.

Time's up!

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