Simon Willard Tower Clock

Almost from the moment of the mechanical clock's invention, the local clock tower on a church or other public building dominated the landscape. Tower clocks announced the time to people within earshot of their bells and regulated urban life in the Western world. The introduction of the pendulum and the anchor escapement in the late seventeenth century made these clocks remarkably accurate. They were set at local noon (when the sun reached its highest point in the sky at a particular location), and thus gave each town a time of its own, depending on its longitude.
In America, before specialized manufacturers began mass-producing tower clocks in the second half of the nineteenth century, the clocks were built to order by versatile individual clockmakers and, occasionally, by adventurous blacksmiths. The tower clock shown here is one of the few built by Simon Willard (1753-1848) of Boston, the most famous of the many clockmaking members of the Willard family. Willard was inventive as well as prolific, a clockmaker who worked not only for a regional clientele but also for Thomas Jefferson and the outfitters of the U.S. Capitol.
Marked "Made in 1832 by Simon Willard in his 80th year," this tower clock served for more than a century on the First (Unitarian) Parish in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In all details the movement shows uncompromising craftsmanship. It has a pinwheel dead-beat escapement with maintaining power and a rack-and-snail hour striking train.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
Willard, Simon
Physical Description
brass (movement material)
iron (frame material)
iron (movement material)
overall: 48 in x 42 in x 16 in; 121.92 cm x 106.68 cm x 40.64 cm
place made
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Industry & Manufacturing
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanisms
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Newton L. Lockwood

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