Ctesibius was probably the first head of the Museum of Alexandria. Very little is known of his life, but his inventions were well known. It is said (possibly by Diogenes Laertius) that his first career was as a barber. During his time as a barber, he invented a counterweight-adjustable mirror. His other inventions include the hydraulis, a water organ that is considered the precursor of the modern pipe organ, and improved the water clock or clepsydra ("water thief"). For more than 1,800 years the clepsydra was the most accurate clock ever constructed, until the Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens detailed the use of pendulums to regulate clocks in the year AD 1656, when he actually built a working prototype.
Ctesibius described one of the first force pumps for producing a jet of water, or for lifting water from wells, and examples have been found at various Roman sites, such as at Silchester in Britain. The principle of the siphon has also been attributed to him.
When he had gone to visit Ctesibius who was ill, seeing him in great distress from want, he secretly slipped his purse under his pillow; and when Ctesibius found it, "This," said he, "is the amusement of Arcesilaus."
Ctesibius's work is chronicled by Vitruvius, Athenaeus, Pliny the Elder, and Philo of Byzantium who repeatedly mention him, adding that the first mechanicians such as Ctesibius had the advantage of being under kings who loved fame and supported the arts. Proclus (the commentator on Euclid) and Hero of Alexandria (the last of the engineers of antiquity) also mention him.