How did people wake up on time before alarm clocks?
I was thinking about this as I lay me down to sleep last night, and came up with a null hypothesis:
- They didn't. Keeping precise time wasn't considered as important in the past as it is now.
They did, by intentionally going to sleep 7-8 hours before they meant to wake up. (Incidentally, I recently read a snippet of a Socratic dialogue in which he claims that we spend "half our lives in each state, sleeping and waking" - is that a wild exaggeration or did people sleep longer?)
They did, because roosters.
They did, because church bells (and other types of shift-sleeping?).
At this point I decided to stop theorizing and just ask here where people might actually know. :)
A fully satisfactory answer would give a rough indication of how it was done in different periods if the available technology made any difference.
Most people just rose at dawn, or when the birds started their noise, like a rooster. Those few who really had to wake up earlier were usually woken up by 'specialists', like the Knocker up
Letting someone else wake you is just shifting the problem. How would those people wake up?
As long as a human keeps a fairly regular circadian rhythm with sleeping at night then there are several factors or biological mechanisms built-in, our own time keeper, synced to the Zeitgeber:
- after your amount of necessary sleep, you wake up
- when daylight comes, you wake up
- when you plan on having a certain time to wake up, you tend to wake up shortly before that time has come
That is of course not a guarantee for waking up if you have to.
That's a problem common enough that even the ancients Greeks turned to artificial inventions. We can be sure that those who built the Antikythera mechanism had something up their sleeves.
Do not look further than Plato as the inventor of one of the first alarm clocks:
Video on YouTube from a Greek museum The alarm clock of Plato (the first awakening device in human history)
The alarm clock of Plato: The upper ceramic vessel supplies the next vessel through an (appropriately calculated for every case) outflow funnel. When the second vessel becomes full at the programmed moment (for example after 7 hours) through the internally located axial pipette, it evacuates fast towards the next closed vessel and forces the contained air to come out whistling through a tube at its top. After its function, the third vessel empties slowly (through a small hole located at its bottom) towards the lower storage vessel in order to be reused.
Archimedes and Aristotle also had their go at clocks.
So, they all did the same we do today from a certain point in time forward: either wake up naturally, or use an early form of alarm clock, if they could afford one.
And yes, before the industrial age and cheap artificial lighting, people had a much healthier sleep cycle, even if it was fragmented, for whatever reason.
A. Roger Ekirch: "Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-Industrial Slumber in the British Isles". American Historical Review, 106:2, 2001, pp. 343-386.
An important point which no one has mentioned - for most people, the need to wake up 'on time' is a product of the industrial revolution so before that there was no need for alarm clocks. Waking up at an approximate time was good enough. These days our lives are dominated by schedules and timetables - this is most obvious with transport, something which people use far more than they used to (see Traveling in the Middle Ages for example).
Some people did have to get up at a certain time though but before alarm clocks one had to be able to tell the time so the Egyptians came up with sundials. The Greeks (see LangLangC) and Romans used water alarm clocks, and they also had slaves to wake them (not sure who woke the slaves though).
In China, Yi Xing invented a timepeice in 725 which was more than just an alarm. It's detailed here.
The clock was slightly more complicated than the average timepiece today, measuring not only time but the distance of planets and stars. A water wheel turned gears in the clock, with puppet shows and gongs set to emerge at various times.
These devices are interesting but very people had them, or needed them.
Where I live in South Germany the village church rings its bells at 6 am every day. This used to be to wake people up to come to early service. Later when early service stopped being a thing they continued this to wake people up for work.
In some towns and cities people were woken by waits (also spelt waites).
Waits, who were present in "every British town and city of any note", were (usually) salaried bands of musicians who had a range of duties, one of which was sometimes to wake people.
From the earliest times, up until their abolition in 1836, they played about the streets of the town at night during the winter months. Sometimes this was combined with the duty of calling out the hour and the state of the weather, and, in sea ports, the state of the tide. In other places, they started in the early hours and played to wake people up for work.
18th century waits in Haddington, East Lothian. Source: The Waits Website
It depended on social class of these "people". Upper/and middle class people were woken up by their servants (if needed). Peasants had a habit to wake up with the sunrise. For factory workers, there was a siren (in the factory) which produced a very loud sound which could be heard far around. These factory sirens still existed (for example in Soviet Union) in the middle of 20th century.
England had knock uppers.
Until the 1970s in some areas, many workers were woken by the sound of a tap at their bedroom window. On the street outside, walking to their next customer's house, would be a figure wielding a long stick.
The "knocker upper" was a common sight in Britain, particularly in the northern mill towns, where people worked shifts, or in London where dockers kept unusual hours, ruled as they were by the inconstant tides.
The other answers have given some great explanations on how people were woken up.
There's one thing that is missing though. As well as a relative lack of timetabled transport or precise work schedules, home life was in some ways more conducive to good sleep. In addition to the absence of electric lights, artificial light (candles) was very expensive up until relatively recent times.
For this reason, when it was dark, you went to sleep. You couldn't sew, read, cook or do anything else that you might have done in the daylight. Additionally, many more people had jobs that were physically active - also good at helping people sleep, and something which leads people to go to sleep earlier than they otherwise might.
In other words, they woke up early because they went to bed early, and slept all night.
How did people wake up before the invention of the alarm clock?
The alarm clock, a simple object that we take for granted, plays an important role in our lives: how could we get up out of bed without it?
The alarm clock has not always existed. Discover with us how people woke up before its invention!
How did people wake up on time before alarm clocks existed? Photos reveal historic method
Before alarm clocks and iPhones , workers still needed to wake up bright and early to get off to work .
With no vibrating buzz on your bedside table, no joyful techno-birdsong to bring you back to life, how would you have known morning had arrived?
In the old days, you&aposd have relied on a &aposknocker-up&apos – a person with a very long rod.
After the Industrial Revolution, where a more regimented working schedule had begun, but pre-1920s, when alarm clocks became more commonplace, early birds in Britain and Ireland made a living by brandishing big sticks.
Knockers-up would walk along streets and tap on windows with their long poles to let people know it was time to start their days.
They&aposd earn a few pence a week doing so.
The practice of knocking-up took place across the country.
Many did the job for decades and helped the likes of doctors, market traders, and drivers get up at the crack of dawn.
Some didn&apost use a pole, but a peashooter.
Although the profession largely died out in the 1920s, Mashable explains, some well-respected knocker-uppers, such as Doris Weigand, carried on even into the 1940s/50s.
Weigand was employed by a railway company, whose workforce were required to get up very early indeed to help with the bustling commute emerging in Britain .
How did people wake up on time before alarm clocks? - History
HISTORY OF ALARM CLOCKS 4:20
While they may not be your best friend in the morning, alarm clocks have been there to help get us out of bed daily. That is of course, unless you forget to set it. But what did people do to wake up before the blaring of the morning radio show or that loud beep? Here is a brief history of something we may not always love to wake up to, but helps us out every morning, rain or shine. the good ol' alarm clock.
RISE AND SHINE! The bright and rising sun has helped people wake since the beginning of time.
The morning crow of the rooster has helped wake people up for centuries. This has definitely been the most annoying alarm clock. especially if he didn't stop.
People used to drink tons of water if they needed to wake up before the sun. It's pretty hard to stay sleeping when you NEED to go to the bathroom.
Here comes the sun! The sundial is the oldest known 'clock' and dates all the way back to the Egyptian Period, around 1500 B.C. It was a simple design that was based on the shadows the sun cast as it moves throughout the day. In central Europe it was the most commonly used method to determine the time, even after the mechanical clock was developed. Sadly, sundials are now more commonly known as decorative garden pieces.
After the sundial, the earliest civilizations moved to water to help tell the time of day. It wasn't until 245 B.C. that Cteslblus of Alexandria improved the water clock and created the world's first mechanical clock. The whistle-like sound marked a designated time. Plato was said to have a water clock of this type to awaken him early in the morning.
Since the 14th century, clock towers in Western Europe became capable of chiming at a fixed time everyday, the earliest of which was described in 1319.
In the 1850s during the Industrial Revolution, it was the loud factory whistle, not the crowing rooster of the clock tower, that woke people up. People lived around the factories they worked at and would wake to the noise every morning.
In 1876, a mechanical wind-up alarm clock that could be set for any time was patented by Seth E. Thomas. In the late 1870s, alarm clocks for the home started to become popular and begin being sold to the masses.
The first radio alarm clock was invented by James F. Reynolds in the 1940s. People could finally choose to wake up to the local tunes and news instead of that annoying bell.
INVENTIONS OF THE SNOOZE FUNCTION
The first alarm clock with the snooze function was made in 1956. Ever since, millions of people have been regularly late for work.
How Did Humans Wake Up Before Alarm Clocks?
Of all the modern inventions we rely on in our daily lives, the alarm clock is probably the most universally despised. Its jarring morning jangles jolt us uncomfortably out of our slumber, and back to reality. And yet however annoying alarm clocks are, they’re also indispensable in getting us out of bed. That raises an interesting question: How did people wake up before alarm clocks became so ubiquitous?
Throughout the ages, even the simple act of telling the time has presented a huge challenge to humans that we’ve tried to solve with elaborate inventions. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians developed sundials and towering obelisks that would mark the time with a shadow that moved with the sun. Dating back to around 1500 B.C., humans produced hourglasses, water clocks and oil lamps, which calibrated the passing of hours with movements of sand, water and oil.
Out of these early inventions came a few rudimentary attempts to create a morning alarm — such as candle clocks. These simplistic devices from ancient China were embedded with nails that were released as the wax melted away, leaving the nails to clatter loudly into a metal tray below at a designated time, waking the sleeper.
But such crude inventions were unpredictable and unreliable. And so, until more precise mechanical inventions were created, humans had to depend on another more innate form of timekeeping: our own internal body clocks.
Humans have two biological processes that underlie our natural sleeping and waking patterns: homeostasis and circadian rhythms, said Melinda Jackson, a senior research fellow in sleep and psychology at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in Australia. The main principle underlying homeostasis — a signaling process that’s governed by the hypothalamus region in the brain — “is that the longer we are awake, the higher our drive for sleep or likelihood of falling asleep [is].” Then, “when we fall asleep, the drive for sleep dissipates across the night” — which signals when it’s time to wake up, she said.
Overlaying this, the circadian rhythm — also controlled by cells in the hypothalamus — is a parallel process that regulates phases of sleepiness and alertness over the course of a day. This process is also affected by light and dark, meaning that periods of alertness and sleepiness usually correspond with morning light and nighttime darkness, respectively. In an era before alarms, Jackson says it’s probable that this is how people woke up, cued by the accumulated hours of sleep, paired with the rays of the rising sun.
In her research on Britain’s historical sleeping practices, Sasha Handley, a senior lecturer in early modern history at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, has discovered that people during this Christian era would often orientate their beds toward the east — where the sun rose. Their reasoning was partly religious, because the east was believed to be the direction from which Jesus would come during his resurrection, she said. But it’s possible that this orientation also enabled people to wake with the sun’s rays.
“It’s hard to imagine now a world where your patterns of sleeping and waking up again were directly influenced by the setting and rising of the sun.
Another simple, but notable fact is that the people of yore had no way of soundproofing their houses against the noises of the outside world, like we do today, Handley added. “For a society that was overwhelmingly agriculture before the Industrial Revolution, noises of nature were probably really important things,” she said. The sounds of roosters crowing and mooing cows waiting to be milked would have interrupted people’s slumber. Church bells also functioned as a type of early alarm clock, she said.
Handley thinks that historically, people may also have been more personally motivated to wake up at a particular hour. Research on early modern Britain shows that during this era, the morning hours were seen as a spiritual time, when one’s closeness to God could be demonstrated by waking up at a scheduled time to pray. “Waking up in a scheduled way was seen to be a sign of health and good ethics,” Handley said. “There’s almost a sense of competitiveness that underpins this: The earlier you got out of bed, the more God had favoured you with physical strengths.”
But by the 1600s and into the 1700s, self-reliance for waking probably became less crucial with the spread of the first domestic alarm clocks, known as lantern clocks, driven by internal weights that would strike a bell as an alarm. In 1800s Britain, wealthier families would also employ knocker-uppers — people armed with long sticks they used to tap incessantly on someone’s window until they were roused. (Some knocker-uppers even used straws through which they would shoot peas at their clients’ windows.) These human timekeepers were gradually replaced by the spread of cheap alarm clocks in the 1930s and 1940s — the precursors to those we know today.
But is our modern-day dependence on alarms actually a good thing? Jackson isn’t so sure. The fact that nowadays we tend to take the opportunity on weekends to sleep in is “an indication that people need to make more time for sleep during the week by going to sleep earlier at night, but we don’t do this,” she said. Instead, we’re working later and longer than ever, and our evenings are invaded by televisions, laptops and mobile phones. “Sleep is not prioritized,” Jackson said. “So, we don’t have much choice other than to use an alarm.”
In this regard, Handley thinks history may offer a few lessons. During early modern history, there’s evidence that people attached great importance to the health benefits of sleep. “Sleeping well is a really essential part of their regular health care practices,” Handley said.
Nighttime was highly ritualized: People consumed soporific herbal drinks, stuffed their pillows with soothing scented flowers and engaged in calming activities like prayer and meditation or in mindless hobbies such as embroidery right before bed.
If we were to take some advice from these historic humans, Handley said it would be to “put sleep back at the center of your 24-hour cycle. Treasure it and revel in it. It is the single best thing you can do for yourself.” As an added bonus, waking up wouldn’t be such a drag.
A knocker-up, sometimes known as a knocker-upper, was a profession  in Britain and Ireland that started during and lasted well into the Industrial Revolution, when alarm clocks were neither cheap nor reliable. A knocker-up's job was to rouse sleeping people so they could get to work on time.   By the 1940s and 1950s, this profession had died out, although it still continued in some pockets of industrial England until the early 1970s. 
The knocker-up used a baton or short, heavy stick to knock on the clients' doors or a long and light stick,  often made of bamboo, to reach windows on higher floors. One 1931 photograph shows a knocker-upper in East London using a pea-shooter.  In return for the task, the knocker-up would be paid a few pence a week. Some knocker-uppers would not leave a client's window until they were sure that the client had been awoken, other's simply tapped several times and then moved on. 
A knocker-upper would also use a 'snuffer outer' as a tool to rouse the sleeping. [ citation needed ] This implement was used to put out gas lamps which were lit at dusk and then needed to be extinguished at dawn.
There were large numbers of people carrying out the job, especially in larger industrial towns such as Manchester. Generally the job was done by elderly men and women but sometimes police constables supplemented their pay by performing the task during early morning patrols. 
Mrs. Molly Moore (daughter of Mrs. Mary Smith, also a knocker-up and the protagonist of a children's picture book by Andrea U'Ren called Mary Smith)  claims to have been the last knocker-up to have been employed as such. Both Mary Smith and Molly Moore used a long rubber tube as a peashooter, to shoot dried peas at their client's windows.
In Ferryhill, County Durham, miners' houses had slate boards set into their outside walls onto which the miners would write their shift details in chalk so that the colliery-employed knocker-up could wake them at the correct time. These boards were known as "knocky-up boards" or "wake-up slates". 
Charles Dickens's Great Expectations includes a brief description of a knocker-up.  Hindle Wakes, a play written by Stanley Houghton and then a movie (of the same title) directed by Maurice Elvey, similarly involves one.
The profession of a knocker-up is documented and explained in the episode "The Industrial Revolution" of the television series The Worst Jobs in History.
A knocker-upper appears at the very beginning of the musical The Wind Road Boys by Paul Flynn. He walks along a group of children who are all holding slates with a number chalked upon them. The number on the slates denotes at what hour the householder wished to be woken in the morning and he calls and raps on the windows with his stick accordingly.
Measuring Time and Making Clocks
Oldest working clock in the world. Built in 1386
Around 1275, an Italian monk designed the first mechanical clock. The clock was driven by the slow pull of a falling weight, basically like a very big hour hand. The world’s oldest working clock (pictured above) was built in 1386 and is still ticking away at Salisbury Cathedral in the UK. Like all clocks of that time it has no face but strikes the hour on a bell. Today, the International Atomic Time, kept by 300 atomic clocks around the world, keeps earth’s time to within microseconds of accuracy of solar time. You can discover how an atomic clock works in another article here >>.
When tower clocks were installed in villages, they often provided a wake-up service. But in the Middle Ages, clocks reflected the casual approach to time: the earliest mechanical clocks had neither minute nor hour hands their bells rang on the hour, occasionally on the quarter hour.
The Chinese were the first to experiment with timepieces devoted to waking up their owners. The Chinese are credited with using the first rope clocks. The clock consisted of a rope saturated with an oil to support combustion. Through experimentation, they learned the length of rope that burned in an hour. With this knowledge, they tied a knot at the proper length for each hour. To awaken at a given time, the rope was tied to the toe. Thus, when the proper time to awaken arrived, the individual felt the heat on the toe and had little trouble waking up.
With the candle clock, by experimentation, it was learned how far down a candle would burn in one hour. Hours, then, were marked on the candle at the appropriate locations. To make this serve as an alarm, the candle was mounted in a large metal dish. A small hook with a small bell was inserted into a location on the candle, which indicated the time to be awakened. When the candle burned to that point, the bell fell into the metal dish, which made a noise – with luck, enough to arouse the sleeper.
The demand for more precise alarm clocks came, not as one might expect, from the world of commerce, but from religion. Muslims traditionally prayed five times a day, and Jews three times a day, but early Christians had no set schedule.
The emergence of monasticism, a full-time vocation, established the need for routines. And these monks, devoted to the service of God, were methodical in organising their prayer schedule. Although different orders varied, many monasteries divided the day into six segments, mandating prayer six times a day. This demanding schedule included night-time vigils, which required the monks to be awakened after they had gone to sleep. Before alarm clocks, one person was often designated to stay up while other monks slept the ‘waker’ had the unenviable task of rousing the others for prayer. The mechanical alarm clocks created by the monks were more akin to today’s eggtimers.
Subsequent clocks were set to strike at the six (later seven) canonical hours, with varying numbers of bells indicating which prayer service was to begin.
Waking Up through History
Beep, beep! Ring! Riiinnggg! Your alarm clock is telling you to wake up. It may require you to push the snooze button—or if you’re really into high-tech, it may be inviting you to a friendly morning game of tag. But how did people wake up before alarm clocks were invented?
Some people hired others to wake them up. In the 1400s, town criers of the port of Sandwich, England, woke sailors with a weather report (a loud one!). Much later, some professional “knocker-uppers” used a pea shooter or stick to tap on windows. That roused customers.
Having humans stir you to rise in the morning would usually mean someone else has to stay up all night. But how would that person know when to sound the alarm? Sundials were some of the earliest time-keeping devices. They tracked the position of the Sun to tell time. But they were useless at night. Instead, ancient and medieval water clocks used water flow to show time passing. Water dripped out of or into bowls. Later, people also used sand hourglasses.
Greek philosopher Plato probably invented the first alarm clock. He added a tube to his water clock. It whistled to awaken sleepers.
Mechanical clocks were invented in the Middle Ages. Gravity pulled weights down to run a clock. The weights had to be wound back up for every cycle. These clocks caught on in churches and town belfries. A whole village could hear the bells strike the hours.
Over time, individuals owning clocks became more common. By the mid to late 1400s, some houses had their own heavy iron wall clocks. Many could be set to ring a bell at a certain time.
Some crazy alarm clocks have been created over the years too. Around 1837, French performer Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin invented a clock that lit a candle after the alarm sounded. Modern-day alarm Clocky has wheels. It will run away, forcing sleepers to get out of bed to turn it off.
One is calling to me from Seir, “Watchman, what time of the night? Watchman, what time of the night?”— Isaiah 21:11
The life of the knocker-upper: How “human alarms” made sure everyone was up for work
The Industrial Revolution introduced the working class. As factories bloomed all over Great Britain, they employed more and more people whose daily routine included getting up early to go to work.
As anyone who’s worked the 9 to 5 schedule knows, getting up early isn’t easy. Before the alarm clock became a commodity, people actually hired their own knocker-uppers.
First of all, a knocker-upper is one of the long-lost skills and trades that became redundant in the face of ever-developing technology. Throughout the 19th century, and partially the 20th, it was quite common for a person to come knock on your bedroom window at an arranged time to wake you up.
In some parts of England and Ireland, this line of work managed to survive until the 1970s, and it was a common sight among the early birds, or the ones who would go to bed during the first hours of the morning.
The profession was useful, especially to those who had to work early shifts, as they had to be up and running sometimes as early as three o’clock in the morning. This applied to the dock workers as well, for they sometimes had to wake up in the middle of the night, due to the shifting of the tide that dictated their working hours
At first, the knocker-upper would simply ring or rap on the door, but this was soon seen as impractical as it would wake up the entire household, together with the one it was intended for.
So, the use of a long stick with a knob at its end replaced this custom. As the bedroom would most often be located at the top floor of the house, this stick, which resembled the fishing rod, could reach the window and subtly wake up the worker, without causing everyone else to be interrupted from their sleep.
Many accounts were recorded about the knocker-uppers of England. Perhaps the earliest written mention of this specific profession came from the pen of Charles Dickens. In his 1861 novel Great Expectations, one of the characters, Mr. Wopsle, loses his temper over “being knocked-up” in the morning.
Another account, that of a lady who worked as a knocker-up for a number of years, was recorded in 1878 by a Canadian journalist who interviewed her for the Huron Expositor. She was already retired at the time the interview took place but still managed to provide an exquisite insight into the daily life of her trade.
Mrs. Waters served between 35 and 95 people, mostly in the period between five and six in the morning. She also recalls the bad temper of some of her customers who, like the Dickens’ character, just couldn’t hold their morning fury:
“There was one man in particular: he had to be up at five o’clock he was given to drink, by the way so that he was not only hard to awaken, but he never came to the window, but he indulged in angry mutterings, and I heard at times an oath slip out of his mouth.”
Mrs. Waters also spoke about how she would get paid a shilling per week by a single customer. The ones who would avoid paying their knocker would most often be left to dream on, and arrive late to work. It was always cheaper to pay a shilling a week than to lose a job, so such cases didn’t come often.
Some knocker-uppers used rather inventive methods to wake up their customers. Mary Smith reigned the streets of East London with her pea-shooter. She would aim at the windows with her flute-like instrument and shoot dried peas, achieving the needed amount of noise without carrying along an impractical stick around.
Mary had an heiress―a daughter of the same name―who took on the title of the knocker-upper once she retired.
As electricity became widespread and affordable alarm clocks came onto the market, the work of a knocker-upper was no longer needed. It remained a curiosity recorded in history, but it once was a truly necessary line of work ― one that kept everyone awake and ready for their job.
A tongue-twister was created in that honor, and it remained part of urban folklore:
We had a knocker-up, and our knocker-up had a knocker-up
And our knocker-up’s knocker-up didn’t knock our knocker up
So our knocker-up didn’t knock us up
The human alarm clocks of Victorian England are now only subjects of folk songs and period pieces. They serve as a reminiscence of a time so far away.
Before alarm clocks were affordable, there was a profession called a “Knocker-Up“
Many old and honorable occupations that no longer exist have their origins deeply rooted in history when people worked many varying trades. Some of these professions are not what historians might consider to be mainstream work, but over the years, these various lines of work have provided interesting stories that can be passed down to future generations.
Even before the days of alarm clocks, people still needed to get to work on time. A knocker-up, sometimes known as a knocker-upper, was a profession in Britain and Ireland that started during and lasted well into the Industrial Revolution and at least as late as the 1920s.
A knocker-up is a person whose job was to go from house to house in the early morning and wake up workers by tapping on the bedroom window. They used a truncheon or short, heavy stick to knock on the clients’ doors or a long and light stick, often made of bamboo, to reach windows on higher floors. At least one of them used a pea-shooter. In return, the knocker-up would be paid. Most knocker-ups were paid weekly and these weekly fees were reasonable and usually based on how far the knocker-up had to travel and the time of day the person needed to be awakened. Generally, the job was carried out by elderly men and women, but sometimes police constables supplemented their pay by performing the task during early morning patrols.
A knocker-upper shooting dried peas at the windows of her sleeping clients. source
A large number of people in this profession usually worked in larger industrial centers. The position gained prominence during the First Industrial Revolution when many people started to work in factories and needed to arrive at the same time. It was the knocker-ups duty to remain at their client’s household until they were awoken and out of bed. Larger Factories and Mills often employed their own knocker-ups to ensure workers made it to work on time.
The goal of a knocker-up was to get as many customers as possible and to cover as much ground as possible. For that reason, knocker-ups sometimes exchanged customers with one another. They developed a system to remember which houses needed to be knocked up and at what time. To keep customers straight, knocker-ups often chalked outside their customer’s homes with “all manner of figures, /2 past 3,’ 1/4 to 4,’ o’clock,’ and such.” Besides displaying the time, the signboards also advertised a knocker-ups business and could be found hanging “over the doors of dingy cottages, or at the head of a flight of steps, leading to some dark cellar-dwelling, containing the words, ‘Knocking-Up Done Here.'”
A knocker-up with his pole tapping a window. source
However, some neighbors didn’t like the early morning noise, and there were reports of some knocker-ups being “pelted from windows” and having “water chucked down on [them].” This resulted in the adoption of “long taper[ed] wands, like fishing rods,” sometimes called a “snuffer outer“, which was also an implement used to extinguish gas lamps at dawn. Тhe advantage of these wands was that the knocker-up could tap, tap, tap and wake the paying customer rather than the non-paying neighbor.
The knocker-upper used a truncheon or short, heavy stick to knock on the clients’ doors or a long and light stick, often made of bamboo, to reach windows on higher floors. source
Knocker-ups were popular enough for authors to include some sort of description of them. For instance, Charles Dickens talked briefly about a knocker-up in his book Sketches by Boz and Great Expectations and numerous weeklies and illustrated monthlies mentioned them at one time or another throughout the Industrial Revolution.
One question history has never answered: Who woke up the knocker-up? For some, it would appear that the technique in most cases was to stay up all night until they had finished their duties. Eventually, around the 1920s, reliable alarm clocks became affordable to the masses and the knocker-upper was no longer needed.