A time clock, sometimes known as a clock card machine or punch clock or time recorder, is a mechanical (or electronic) timepiece used to assist in tracking the hours worked by an employee of a company. In regards to mechanical time clocks this was accomplished by inserting a heavy paper card, called a timesheet, into a slot on the time clock. When the time card hit a contact at the rear of the slot, the machine would print day and time information on the card. This allowed a timekeeper to have an official record of the hours an employee worked to calculate the pay owed an employee.
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Although there are many brands and variations of time clocks, it’s noted that there are 4 key variations of time clocks, basic, self calculating, time and date stamps, and software based time and attendance systems.
A basic time clock will just stamp the date and time on a time card. It may feature a bell or signal relay to signal a certain time or break. These will usually be activated by a button that a worker must press to stamp their card. Although they are an effective method of recording time, these types of machine are flawed. Common issues include overstamping, where one time is stamped over another, and buddy stamping, where a friend clocks in another member of staff. A basic clock can range in functionality with more features on higher end machines or more industrial uses.
The time cards usually have the workdays, "time in", and "time out" areas marked on them so that employees can "punch in" or "punch out" in the correct place. The employee is responsible to line up the correct area of the card to be punched with an indicator on the time card. Software applications offer such a system.
There are two different types of time cards conventionally used with a manual time clock, clipper and punch hole cards. There are also variations based on manufacture and machine used, and whether the user wants to record weekly or monthly recordings. Typically, time cards are divided into sections for time and day stamping. More advanced time clocks require more advanced cards.
Self-calculating machines are similar to basic time clocks. Nevertheless, at the end of each period the total time recorded is added up allowing for quicker processing by HR (human resources) or payroll. These machines sometimes have other functions such as automatic stamping, dual colour printing and automated column shift.
Software based time and attendance systems are similar to paper based systems, but they rely on computers and check-in terminals. They are backed up with software that can be integrated with the HR department and in some cases payroll software. These types of systems are becoming more popular but due to high initial costs they are usually only adopted by large business of over 30 employees. Despite this they can save a business a lot of money every year by cutting down errors and reducing administration time.
The first time clock was invented on November 20, 1888, by Willard Bundy, a jeweler in Auburn, New York. A year later his brother, Harlow Bundy, organized the Bundy Manufacturing Company, and began mass producing time clocks. In 1900, the time recording business of Bundy Manufacturing, along with two other time equipment businesses, was consolidated into the International Time Recording Company (ITR). In 1911, ITR, Bundy Mfg., and two other companies were merged, forming Computing Tabulating Recording Company (CTR), which would later change its name to IBM. In 1958, IBM's Time Equipment Division was sold to the Simplex Time Recorder Company. However in the United Kingdom ITR (A subsidiary of IBM United Kingdom Ltd.) was the subject of a management buy-out in 1963 and reverted to International Time Recorders. In 1982, International Time Recorders was acquired by Blick Industries of Swindon, England, who were themselves later absorbed by Stanley Security Systems.
In the late twentieth century, time clocks started to move away from the mechanical machines to computer based, electronic time and attendance systems. The employee either swipes a magnetic stripe card, brings an RFID (radio-frequency identification) tag into proximity with a reader, enters an employee number or uses a biometric reader to identify the employee to the system. These systems are much more advanced than the mechanical time clock, various reports can be generated, including European working time directive, and a Bradford factor report. Employees can also request holidays, enter in absenteeism requests and view their worked hours. User interfaces can be personalized and offer robust self-service capabilities.
More recently, time clocks have started to adopt technology commonly seen in phones and tablets - called 'Smartclocks'. The state of the art smartclocks come with multi-touch screens, full color displays, real time monitoring for problems, wireless networking and over the air updates. Some of the smartclocks use front facing cameras to capture employee clock-ins to deter "buddy punching", a problem usually requiring expensive biometric clocks. With the increasing popularity of cloud based software, some of the newer time clocks are built to work seamlessly with the cloud.
Biometric time clocks are a feature of more advanced time and attendance systems. Rather than using a key, code or chip to identify the user, they rely on a unique attribute of the user, such as a hand print, finger print, finger vein, palm vein, facial recognition, iris or retina. The user will have their attribute scanned into the system. Biometric readers are often used in conjunction with an access control system, granting the user access to a building, and at the same time clocking them in recording the time and date. These systems also attempt to cut down on fraud such as "buddy punching." When combined with an access control system they can help prevent other types of fraud such as ghost employees where employees are actually at work to clock in but then leave for the day only to return after their shift to clock out.
See also 
- Willard Legrand Bundy Biography
- IBM Archives: Bundy Manufacturing Co.
- Bundy Museum of History & Art
- Engelbourg (1954) p.33
- Belden, Martin; Belden, Marva (1961). The Life of Thomas J. Watson, Little, Brown; p.92
- IBM Archives: International Time Recording
- IBM Archives: ITR time recorder
- Bennett, Frank P.; and Company (June 17 1911). United States Investor. 22, Part 2. p. 1298 (26).
- Kronos History
- David Needle, TabTimes, Android tablet gives old punch card time clock facelift
- Engelbourg, Saul (1954). International Business Machines: A Business History (Ph.D.). Columbia University. pp. 385. Reprinted by Arno Press, 1976, from the best available copy. Some text is illegible.
- IBM Time Clocks (PDF files)
- National Museum of American History: International Dial Time Recorder Clock
- www.timerecorder.de/ (mostly in German, but partly translated into English) is one of the most comprehensive online documentations of the history of time recorders and time clocks
- Harlow Bundy's home in Binghamton, it was restored and now houses a museum dedicated to the Bundys.