Eli Terry Mass-Produced Box Clock

In the opening years of the 19th century, a handful of Connecticut inventors and entrepreneurs transformed the way clocks were made in the United States. Recognizing a vast potential market for low-cost domestic clocks, Eli Terry and his associates Seth Thomas and Silas Hoadley applied water-powered machinery to clockmaking. One of the proving grounds of the American Industrial Revolution, clockmaking changed from a craft to a factory process in which machines mass-produced uniform, interchangeable clock parts. This manufacturing technique appeared in other industries about this time and became known as "the American system" of manufacturing.
The process called for a whole new kind of clock. The first mass-produced clocks had movements of wood, instead of scarce and expensive brass. Although the earliest of these wooden clocks had long pendulums and fitted into traditional tall cases, about 1816 Eli Terry designed a distinctly American clock small enough to set on a mantel or shelf. Sold largely to rural buyers by itinerant merchants, these clocks played an early and significant role in transforming the rural North from overwhelmingly agricultural to a modern market society.
This clock demonstrates Terry's determination to make his clocks as economical as possible. The case is a simple wooden box and the glass door bears reverse-painted numbers that served as a dial. Terry's success spawned imitators eager to capture part of the market for machine-made clocks. By 1830, western Connecticut was home to over a hundred firms, large and small, making clocks with wooden movements.
Currently not on view
Object Name
clock, box
Date made
ca 1816
Terry, Eli
Physical Description
glass (case material)
glass (dial material)
wood (case material)
wood (dial material)
wood (movement material)
lead (weights material)
paper (label material)
overall: 21 in x 14 in x 3 1/2 in; 53.34 cm x 35.56 cm x 8.89 cm
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
Related Publication
Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History

Visitor Comments

4/10/2015 3:39:43 PM
George Chisholm
I'm in the process of repairing an Eli Terry clock with wood movement and mahogany on pine case. The door is reverse painted on glass and it has one remaining of the three finials. I've purchased two replicas which are fairly close. It was given to one of my great grandmothers as a wedding gift in the 1850s and, according to family lore was not new then. The case received a lot of damage when it was in storage during WWII while my father was based in Ottawa and overseas. I live in an 1830s Regency bungalow west of Toronto so the clock is appropriate to the house. What would a typical shelf for it look like?
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