It could not have been long after man first became cognizant of his reasoning faculties that he began to take more or less notice of the flight of time. The motion of the sun by day and of the moon and stars by night served to warn him of the recurring periods of light and darkness. By noting the position of these stellar bodies during his lonely vigils, he soon became proficient in roughly dividing up the cycle into sections, which he denominated the hours of the day and of the night. Primitive at first, his methods were simple, his needs few and his time abundant. Increase in numbers, multiplicity of duties, and division of occupation began to make it imperative that a more systematic following of these occupations should be instituted, and with this end in view he contrived, by means of burning lights or by restricting the flowing of water or the falling of weights, to subdivide into convenient intervals and in a tolerably satisfactory manner the periods of light.
These modest means then were the first steps toward the exact subdivisions of time which we now enjoy. Unrest, progress, discontent with things that be, we must acknowledge, have, from the appearance of the first clock to the present hour, been the powers which have driven on the inventive genius of watch and clockmakers to designate some new and more acceptable system for regulating the course of the movement. In consequence of this restless search after the best, a very considerable number of escapements have been invented and made up, both for clocks and watches; only a few, however, of the almost numberless systems have survived the test of time and been adopted in the manufacture of the timepiece as we know it now. Indeed, many such inventions never passed the experimental stage, and yet it would be very interesting to the professional horologist, the apprentice and even the layman to become more intimately acquainted with the vast variety of inventions made upon this domain since the inception of horological science. Undoubtedly, a complete collection of all the escapements invented would constitute a most instructive work for the progressive watchmaker, and while we are waiting for a competent author to take such an exhaustive work upon his hands, we shall endeavor to open the way and trust that a number of voluntary collaborators will come forward and assist us to the extent of their ability in filling up the chinks.
The problem to be solved by means of the escapement has always been to govern, within limits precise and perfectly regular, if it be possible, the flow of the motive force; that means the procession of the wheel-work and, as a consequence, of the hands thereto attached. At first blush it seems as if a continually-moving governor, such as is in use on steam engines, for example, ought to fulfil the conditions, and attempts have accordingly been made upon this line with results which have proven entirely unsatisfactory.