On Time National Museum of American History

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  1700–1820
Marking Time
 
  The Race Is On
  The Most Reliable Time
  Revolution!
Clocks by Machine
Brass Movements
Spring-Driven Clocks
Millions of Clocks
Selling Clocks
  Watches by Machine
  Like Clockwork
  1880–1920
Synchronizing Time
 
 

 

Revolution!


Clocks by Machine
Eli Terry, a clockmaker in western Connecticut, was determined to make a new kind of clock—small, affordable, and quick to manufacture. In 1816 he patented a simple box clock. The weight-driven movement used mass-produced, interchangeable wooden parts. Terry then modified the timepiece into the pillar-and-scroll shelf clock. He and his family were soon operating three factories that produced about 9,000 clocks annually. By 1830, more than a hundred different manufacturers were producing a variety of clocks with wooden movements.

Mass-produced box clock
Pillar-and-scroll shelf clock
Shelf clock
Mass-produced box clock by Eli Terry, 1814–1816.   Pillar-and-scroll shelf clock, about 1825; by Eli & Samuel Terry, Plymouth, Connecticut
Gift of New York University, James Arthur Collection
  Shelf clock, about 1830; by E. & G. W. Bartholomew, Bristol, Connecticut
 
Brass Movements
In the late 1830s, Chauncey Jerome wanted to make clock movements more cheaply using newly developed techniques for stamping parts from brass plate. His brother Noble devised a simple brass movement, and for the case, they popularized a design with S-shaped "ogee" moldings. The Jeromes and their rivals were soon manufacturing not thousands, but hundreds of thousands, of ogee shelf clocks annually. Costing just a few dollars, they were easily afforded by farmers, artisans, and laborers. The clocks were exported worldwide.


Brass movement Ogee shelf clock
Brass movement, 1839; by
Noble Jerome to accompany his patent application
Transfer from U.S. Patent Office

  Ogee shelf clock, about 1840; with an illustration of the Sailors Home, Liverpool, England; manufactured for the export market by Chauncey Jerome, Bristol, Connecticut.
 
  Acorn clock
  Acorn clock, about 1849; by the Forestville Manufacturing Co., Bristol, Connecticut.
Gift of Albert Adsit Clemons, through George H. Paltridge

Spring-Driven Clocks
Shelf clocks driven by falling weights were the staple of American clockmaking. But some makers experimented with spring-driven movements. A few incorporated expensive, imported coiled-steel springs in their shelf clocks. Joseph Ives in Brooklyn, New York, used a locally made strap spring for his wagon-spring clock. Another manufacturer had success with a steeple clock that used coiled springs made from brass. When U.S.-made coiled-steel springs finally became available, the acorn clock was one of the first styles to incorporate them.
Shelf clock
Wagon-spring clock
Shelf clock
Shelf clock, about 1825; with imported springs; by Curtiss and Clark, Plymouth, Connecticut   Wagon-spring clock, about 1827 to 1830; by Joseph Ives, Brooklyn, New York
Gift of New York University, James Arthur Collection
  Shelf clock, 1840s; with imported springs; by Terry and Andrews, Ansonia, Connecticut
Gift of New York University,
James Arthur Collection
Millions of Clocks
Shelf clocks with brass movements powered by unwinding steel springs became the industry standard. No longer driven by falling weights, clocks shrank in size and price. They were produced in a profusion of styles to satisfy wide-ranging tastes and consumer demand for room-appropriate timekeepers—by the 1850s, more houses had separate kitchens, bedrooms, and parlors than a single, multipurpose room. American consumers purchased millions of clocks. After 1860, just seven companies, all founded in Connecticut, dominated the field.


Swinging-doll clock (left) Blinking-eye clock (right)
Shelf clock
Shelf clock
Swinging-doll clock (left), about 1890; by Ansonia Clock Co., Brooklyn, New York
Gift of Mrs. Dorothy Massey
Blinking-eye clock (right), 1860s; by Bradley & Hubbard, West Meriden, Connecticut
  Shelf clock, about 1880 to 1895; by E. Ingraham & Co., Bristol, Connecticut
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. F. S. Elmore
  Shelf clock, 1860; by Waterbury Clock Co. (now Timex Corp.), Waterbury, Connecticut
         
Shelf clock   Table clock  
Shelf clock, about 1875; with calendar; by Ithaca Calendar Clock Co., Ithaca, New York
Gift of IBM Corporation
  Table clock, 1850s; probably by Litchfield Manufacturing Co., Litchfield, Connecticut
Gift of New York University, James Arthur Collection
   
Selling Clocks
When the seemingly endless output of clocks saturated local markets, companies dispatched scores of traveling salesmen across the country, to great success. Clocks were one of the first consumer goods to appear in the homes of artisans, farmers, laborers, and storekeepers. As English traveler George Featherstonhaugh noted in 1844: "Wherever we have been in Kentucky, in Indiana, in Illinois, in Missouri, and in every dell of Arkansas and in cabins where there was not a chair to sit on, there was sure to be a Connecticut clock."
 
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Smithsonian National Museum of American History