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The Carry-on Clock: Atomic Time You Can Take With You

Temporal precision in a box

1 min read

Photo of a vintage ad for the portable atomic clock.
Photo: Randi Klett

High-speed electronics require clocks that must be calibrated to precise standards. Once, the ultimate standard was based on astronomical observations. But in the mid-1950s, the first reliable atomic clocks were constructed and enthusiastically adopted: This ad for a portable atomic clock—weighing only 14 kilograms and with an 8-hour battery life—was published in April 1967, the same year the second was redefined in terms of the electronic transitions of a cesium atom. But atomic clocks didn’t really get much more portable than this until 2011, following a breakthrough that squeezed an atomic clock down to the size of a computer chip—leading to, among other things, the world’s first atomic pocket watch.

Part of a continuing series looking the story of technology as told through advertisements.

This article originally appeared in print as “Carry-on Clock.”

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