Countdown Clocks

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Count-up and countdown clocks are dramatic, but according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal offer only estimates, not precise numbers.

The first count-up clock I ever encountered is the electronic National Debt Clock, located high on the side of a building in mid-town Manhattan. Launched by real estate developer Seymour Durst in 1989, its numbers began rolling backward with the Clinton administration in 2000. Two years later the debt turned upward and the clock restarted. It is now at $8.89 trillion.

The forerunner of them all–Doomsday Clock–first appeared on the cover of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in 1947. Designed by Martyl Langsdorf, an artist and wife of atomic scientist Alex Langsdorf, the Doomsday Clock symbolized the urgency and fears of scientists. The publisher of the Bulletin, Kennette Benedict, said the clock had no pretense of precision. He said Martyl Langsdorf “put it at seven minutes to midnight because that’s where it would look best in the design sense.”

Atomic tests by the U.S. and Russia in 1953 pushed them to move the clock to two minutes to midnight. Since then, the minute hand has yo-yoed. It’s now at 11:55 PM.

Other famous countdown clocks include the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Clock and the UN’s AIDS Clock.

If you are curious about how much time you have left, go visit The Death Clock, “the Internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away…”

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